Steve Hitchen

Bill Bristow can retire knowing his contribution to regional Australia has been substantial. As the founder of Angel Flight he created a network of health workers, aviators and volunteers that provide an invaluable service to remote communities. Without Bristow, there would still be thousands of people each year condemned to long and arduous road trips on Australia's rough-edged regional highways; not the sort of thing you want when you're already battling illness. Thanks to Bristow, many people no longer have to endure that. His network remains intact thanks to the dedication of the people who make Angel Flight run as efficiently and safely as it does. Well done, Bill Bristow, regional Australia owes you a huge debt of gratitude.

CASA is determined to close the safety gap between charter and air transport, but could they be designing a bridge to cross a river that doesn't actually exist? Both CASA and the ATSB have displayed a liking for making decisions based on the quantitiative value of statistics rather than the qualitative value of genuine safety. The statistics are wielded to prove an unsafe condition, then a solution is crafted that has no chance of actually increasing safety. Sometimes the solution doesn't fit the problem; other times the problem doesn't actually exist. The move to switch charter operations into the air transport sector and apply more stringent maintenance requirements is, I believe, another example of this. To declare that this move is going to bring about an increase in safety assumes (a) the unsafe condition in charter operations is maintenance-related and (b) the higher maintenance requirements will resolve the unsafe condition. I believe the logic here is flawed, because CASA has dawdled on making this change for 20 years, which leads me to believe it doesn't actually exist. CASA has admitted that the change to these maintenance regs stems from a ministerial directive given to them in 1999. If a known unsafe condition existed in 1999, why have they allowed it to continue unchecked for 20 years? That the charter fleet has an average age of over 40 years is evidence that aeroplanes are not falling out of the sky, and further evidence that the maintenance regimes they've been under since Noah's Ark was a rowboat were good enough to ensure that no unsafe condition existed. The new regs are therefore likely to achieve nothing.

Digital tower technology is probably inevitable with only the places and the systems to be decided. And why would it not be? Technology that is never adopted is usually the victim of vested interest in another direction or is actually not fit for the purpose for which it was designed. With trials at Heathrow and several other test sites around the world, it looks to be full-steam ahead for this tehcnology. Airservices is testing a Sydney contingency system, but you can bet they'll be keeping the corners of their eyes on Airways NZ's tower at Invercargill. Airways NZ is replacing the tower with a remote digital system, and there are several parallels in Australia where Class D towers might one day be consigned to history in favour of digital technology. Alice Springs is perhaps the best example, but there are others around the country as well. I, for one, won't discount Avalon as being an appropriate target. The question unanswered so far is whether or not this technology could be introduced at places that currently aren't towered at all. Ballina-Byron, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Mildura ... all of them are busy, but still below CASA's movement threshold for a mandatory ATC service. Once perfected, could the technology enable these airports to become controlled quite cheaply? Regardless of where and how it gets deployed, the technology is definitely coming even if it takes a few years yet.

May you gauges always be in the green,



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