Unions raise concerns about light aircraft and large passenger aircraft sharing airspace

Australia's National Airspace System Implementation Group (NAS IG) last week met with the country's pilot and air traffic controller unions in a bid to allay fears that threatened to wreck its attempt at airspace reform. A main concern is that airspace reclassification will allow light aircraft and leisure fliers to share airspace with commercial instrument flight rules traffic.

The meeting came after the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and Civil Air (the Australian air traffic controllers' association) wrote to transport minister John Anderson calling for the next stage of NAS implementation to be deferred due to "significant flaws" which will result in "an overall reduction in safety standards".

The NAS programme will see a reform of the country's airspace procedures and charting, modelled on the US airspace system. Its supporters say it will simplify procedures, improve safety, reduce operator costs and encourage participation and compliance. Implementation began in March, with major changes - including airspace reclassification - planned for 27 November.

Pilots and controllers unions are concerned that light aircraft will be able to fly into the same airspace as large passenger aircraft without reporting their whereabouts. "Obviously, if you go from full air traffic control separation to a situation where pilots are responsible for 'see and avoid' separation of unannounced traffic, then safety must be affected," says Capt Richard Woodward, AIPA's technical and safety director. But Mike Smith, executive director of NAS IG, says a meeting with the unions last week was "productive", stressing that NAS will need all aircraft operating in class A, B, C and E airspace above 10,000ft (3,050m) to be fitted with a transponder.

Support for NAS has come, however, from Australia's Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which accuses pilots and controllers unions of conducting "an unnecessary scare campaign".

The Australian government is preparing to corporatise Airservices Australia, with the air traffic services provider hopeful that the process will be completed by mid-2004.

Source: Flight International