• Airservices Australia's Brisbane tower. (Airservices)
    Airservices Australia's Brisbane tower. (Airservices)

After coming in for sharp criticism at a recent Senate inquiry over its own safety deficiencies in the wake of the Pel Air crash in 2009, CASA has turned the blowtorch on Airservices Australia’s airways and aerodrome branch, highlighting “critical” shortcomings in the country’s air traffic control services that threaten safe flying.

The Regulatory Review of CASR Part 172 Air Traffic Service Approval of Airservices Australia points to seriously deficient operational, safety and management services in the monopoly air navigation service provider.

Of prime concern is a spike in late 2011 and 2012 in the number of incidents where the recognised separation between aircraft had broken down or loss of separation assurance (LOSA) had been incorrectly applied by air traffic controllers.

This, said CASA, had resulted in increased public concern and media exposure, particularly because these incidents were in high-level Class A airspace where “the consequences of these can be high.”

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau details 10 such incidents in 2012, four involving air traffic services (ATS).

Of further concern to CASA was the fact that Airservices had not been able to determine the root causes of the increase in these incidents.

The 113-page review, dated 21 January 2013 has only just come to light after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation sought its contents under Freedom of Information laws.

The review highlights so many flaws and shortcomings that CASA’s Director of Aviation Safety, John McCormick, told Airservices Australia’s chief executive, Margaret Staib, that CASA had considered the option of withdrawing Airservices’ approval to operate air traffic control services, but had instead decided to put a finite date on renewal of the licence of three years. During this time it will require frequent audits and oversight to fix the shortcomings.

The review highlights a 35.8 per cent increase in Airservices staff (2,861 to 3,886 between 2001 and 2012), yet in that same period the number of air traffic controllers had declined from 951 to 922 even though three new air traffic towers had been added to the network since 2001. There had also been a marked increase in air traffic in the period, especially in Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia because of the mining boom.

Between May 2003 and June 2012 Airservices was issued with 233 non-compliance notices (NCNs).

“The recurring nature of the NCNs suggests Airservices’ senior management is either unaware of issues or has not taken sufficient action to address the root causes,” said CASA.

It has made 35 recommendations, the majority addressing deficiencies in Airservices’ management responsibilities, particularly its safety management system and the effectiveness of supervision at some air traffic control locations.

Recommendations focuses on staffing levels, training, the application of the safety management system, breakdown of separation incidents, traffic information broadcasts by aircraft incidents and the ability to provide air traffic services.

Specific issues that needed addressing include:

  • The lack of direct supervision at some ATS locations.
  • Inadequate resourcing or management of air traffic control staff.
  • Internal audits failing to deliver the results required by either the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) or CASA in terms of internal surveillance.
  • Inadequate document control processes.
  • Greater compliance with the operations manual.
  • Training and checking processes.
  • Fast-tracking improvements to the ATS re-sectorisation of airspace in the Brisbane Basin, Western Australia and South Australia, including a review of air routes, holding patterns, workstations and staffing.
  • More suitably trained ATS incident investigators
  • Review of the ATS risk management processes so that operational staff have better visibility of hazards and present risk levels

For a copy of the full report, scroll down on this page to the links to the report. You will need to subscribe (free) for access.

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