Qantas just saving fuel? Not likely. Rumours persist — we’ve had at least two — that Qantas’ decision to ground flights rather than fly around the gritty volcanic plume is more to do with costs and not safety. As one tipster, the imaginatively named “Top Gun”, explains: “It is no secret amongst pilots that the lower an aircraft flies (below a plume of volcanic ash for example) the higher the consumption of aircraft fuel. This translates into a less profitable flight for Qantas.”

Our resident aviation guru Ben Sandilands reckons the figures don’t add up. He wrote on his blog Plane Talking yesterday: “The aircraft that are not flying aren’t earning their keep. The numbers will vary depending on whether the jet is attracting finance or lease charges, or is owned. But even then there are continuing support costs not just for labor, but for systems support, and those fixed costs end up being divided by fewer aircraft as a result of part of the fleet not flying say Tasmania routes.” Can we put that one to bed?

ABC debates rural relationships. The email trail we published yesterday from inside ABC News had plenty inside the organisation talking and brought more journos out of the shed to Crikey. And there’s some push-back from city reporters against claims that they don’t understand their rural cousins. Rather, they back the concerns published yesterday that the broadcaster goes “soft” on rural issues.

Noted one current staffer: “Rural reporters forget the ‘latte-set’ journos often come from regional Australia themselves. Right now, in the NSW ‘Beef Capital’ of Casino, producers aren’t happy with MLA, and the cosy relationship between our rural colleagues and shady bodies like MLA leaves their integrity sadly lacking.” Seems economics correspondent Stephen Long is not alone in worrying about  “industry capture” …

Are Labor’s numbers still Rudd’s fault? This note from a “Labor insider”. You be the judge:

When will the poll comparisons between Rudd and Gillard turn to the truth, that the difference between Rudd’s poll numbers a year ago and Gillard’s numbers today are that a year ago Gillard’s contribution was propping up the Labor vote back then while Rudd now does everything he can publicly and privately to tear her support down, just like he did during the election campaign? No Labor figure has so routinely and selfishly put himself before the party, putting himself around, hoping we forget what he is really like, overheard in Canberra restaurants talking down a party that gave him the chance he squandered. Labor’s poor showing in the campaign, and its Newspoll numbers now, are more Rudd’s doing than Gillard’s.

Magazine publisher busted for drugs. Yes, we’ve heard about the magazine publisher apparently fired last month over drug use. And about his more recent health issues. We’ll let the courts/doctors deal with that…

Appeals to Canberra by air traffic cops. Air traffic controllers are not happy. And, worried that their concerns are not being heard by management, they’re taking their fight to Canberra. Crikey intercepted this letter from Melbourne controllers to Senator Nick Xenophon:

Dear Mr. Xenophon,

I am an air traffic controller and believe you need to be made aware of some serious issues regarding my organisation, AirServices Australia, which could impact the safety of the travelling public.

I am raising these with you because I noted your interest in aviation during a recent inquiry concerning Qantas and flight training and your persistence with these issues.

I cannot raise the following concerns in my organisation because, despite their “safety conscious and just culture statements” their behaviour and actions say otherwise.

As I am sure you are aware, AirServices is a government owned agency, but you would not know it from the way they behave and treat their government owners. These are just some of the serious issues impacting this workplace.

  • I and my collegues have been told AirServices Chief Engineer has raised serious questions on the safety of the national air traffic control system which I rely on to do my job. I have not seen any documentation, but there is enough people talking about the existence of a memo and the fact that he was removed from his position for several months due to ‘health reasons’ to convince me that there is substance to this matter. You may wish to ask the CEO whether he has ever received concerns from the Chief Ebngineer [sic] about critical safety issues and if so is the Board aware of them.
  • There is a culture of bullying and harassment led from the top by the CEO and Board (appointed by the government). For example:
    • I am writing to you anomonously [sic] because I don’t trust anyone.
    • There is a court case in Melbourne at the moment about harassment and bullying suffered by some of my fellow air traffic controllers. (Apparently the former HR manager was sacked because the harassment case in Melbourne made the media).
    • There have been previous cases of female aviation fire fighters being victimised.
    • Under the ‘leadership’ of the CEO 12 or 13 Executives have been removed from office in just 5 years that he appointed.  Their silence is bought with generous payouts and ‘shut up’ clauses in their contracts. The latest one was just this week. This executive had only been in AirServices for 12 months and was specifically hired to lead the much publicised project to harmonise air traffic control with our RAAF colleagues. (More on this in a moment).

You may wish to ask how many more people need to go before the actual leadership of the CEO is questioned. We don’t normally have a lot of time for the executives or management of AirServices, but it is clear that for a number of reasons very senior managers are being pushed out the door. In an organisation that is meant to have safety as its number one priority, this has huge implications. Watching these behaviours by the CEO will mean we all keep our mouths shut because we may suffer the same fate — is this what a “just culture” looks like?

  • Almost every project is either running overtime and over budget, in some cases years overdue. Many of these have serious safety implications. For example:
    • we were meant to have a new tower in Melbourne back in 2010. At the moment it looks like it might be finished in 2012.
    • Some sort of electronic information tool called “Cognos” or “Dashboard” in under development by IBM. This project apparently had an expenditure approved of around $2-$3 million by the Board, but there is again talk that this project is now closer to $20 million and still no closer to delivery.
    • There has been internal publicity about rebuilding the Canberra headquarters yet again. The budget for this is apparently more than $15million to $20 million, yet the building has had substantial refurbishments on at least three occasions I can recall from 2000 (these were showcased in the internal staff magazine)
    • The CEO is renowned in air traffic control circles for his “Glitz and Glamor” and this is shown by his eagerness to pour money into projects which may put Australia at the front of world air traffic control, but given our recent track record more likely to fail. Millions are being spent on these fantasies, while the core air traffic control system is forgotten and a critical shortage of staff continues (despite the CEO telling government all is well).  One such example is  ‘Virtual Towers” where apparently you can run air traffic control for an operation like Sydney from a remote location –  much the same as flight simulator on an X-Box. The CEO has proudly announced we are spending millions on stuff like this when our airline customers are laying off staff and cancelling services – go figure.
    • There are heaps of other examples just ask for how many there are and how many are on time and on budget and if the memo from the Chief Engineer exists then how do you explain his concerns with these other projects.
  • Back to other highly publicised cooperation with the RAAF girls and boys. The CEO as late Monday this week announced he had sacked the manager in charge of the project to harmonise RAAF and AirServices air traffic control systems. He said in the staff memo announcing his decision that this would not impact a ‘once-in-a-generation” opportunity. The CEO has continually assured us that this project is going well and on track. This is BS. The Board and the especially the CEO have no idea what they want yet slam any idea put forward by management to progress this difficult project which is already two years late. In my mind this project will never see the light of day and the possibilities it may have presented in cost savings and safety enhancements will be lost forever (yes the CEO is right – its once in a generation opportunity – and he will have single handedly stuffed it). I am told by RAAF collegues [sic]  that they need a new ATC system now. You might want to ask where this RAAF project is at and why was an apparently highly qualified manager sacked like so many of his colleagues. You may also want to ask what knowledge or involvement the Board had in any of these sackings.

Mr Xenophon we are not negotiating a new certified agreement at the moment so please do not think these concerns are driven by air traffic controllers demanding more money. This is also the reason I am not doing this through my union, because I do not want genuine concerns for the safety of the public to be clouded in Union bashing.

My colleagues and I are seriously worried about the safety of the travelling public and urge you to take this matter up as you see fit. We are constantly distracted by an out of control CEO and Board who punish anyone who speaks out against their idea of how this GOVERNMENT organisation should be run. They are making reckless decisions about where money should be spent and on what.

This GOVERNMENT organisation’s top leadership must be held to account.

A concerned Air Traffic Controller.

We’d love to hear from more air traffic controllers. They say it’s one of the most stressful jobs on the planet — feel free to vent to us.

Peter Fray

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