Petition to government started after furore over Tasmanian air safety incident

Australian pilots and air traffic controllers have started a petition to try to encourage the government to overturn the controversial National Airspace System (NAS) in the wake of another air safety incident which NAS opponents attribute to the airspace changes.

The petition, started by a group calling itself Safeskies, says that the changes, implemented in late November, downgrade the safety level of Australia's airspace and provide no clear benefit to stakeholders.

It states that the system is "flawed and failing in a number of key areas". These include reliance on see-and-avoid and on the traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) as a first-response separation tool; deficiencies in transponder use by visual flight rules and instrument flight rules aircraft; verification of transponder accuracy; the depiction of correct frequencies on navigation charts; and a lack of radar coverage in Class E airspace, especially over Tasmania and Alice Springs.

The petition calls for the Class E airspace procedures to be suspended, Class C airspace to be restored and for area frequencies to be reinstated on navigation charts. It has been signed by around 1,000 pilots, but the government is adamant that the NAS will remain.

The move follows an incident over Launceston, Tasmania late last month involving a Virgin Blue Boeing 737 and a Socata Tobago general aviation aircraft. The Virgin Blue 737 was descending through 1,000ft (300m) into Launceston when its TCAS was triggered by the Tobago. The incident is being investigated by Airservices Australia and the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (ATSB).

Late last year the ATSB determined that there was no infringement of separation standards and no near-miss during a similar incident in early December involving a Virgin Blue 737-800 and a Cessna 421.

Airservices Australia says that the bulk of incidents in NAS airspace have not been serious safety occurrences and that separation breakdowns were common before the NAS was implemented.

Air traffic controllers' union Civil Air and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), are continuing to demand changes, however. "AIPA is calling for the Class C airspace control steps to be changed to cater for the climb and descent profiles of commercial passenger-carrying aircraft. We are also calling for the Class E airspace over non-radar Class D air traffic control towers such as Launceston to be replaced with Class C airspace," says Capt Richard Woodward, technical and safety director.

Australian aviation regulations and standards company Aviation Compliance Solutions (ACS) has become the first company in the Asia-Pacific region to be appointed as an audit organisation for the International Air Transport Association's Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). Melbourne-based ACS is the third IOSA audit organisation, after Aviation Quality Services of Germany and the USA's United Airlines. ACS expects to conduct most of the IOSA work in the Asia-Pacific region. IOSA was introduced last year in an attempt to bring international operational standards to the airline industry.

Source: Flight International