Airservices continues to mislead at Senate Estimates

Airservices CEO Jason Harfield was asked a series of questions about the new flight paths in Hobart at Additional Estimates hearings on Monday 26 February.

View hearing (questions start at 17:26:20)

Unfortunately when asked about the amended flight path being implemented on 1 March, he said it would be 'as close as possible to the previous flight path', leaving the impression the problem was fixed. The 'previous flight path' he was referring to is a series of tracks made by planes using Instrument Flight Rules (e.g. when visibility is low) - see the blue tracks below.

The vast bulk of arrivals (lavender) turned much closer to the airport.

Flight tracks prior to 14 August - 13 September 2017 from Airservices's  Review of Runway 30 STAR  report

Flight tracks prior to 14 August - 13 September 2017 from Airservices's Review of Runway 30 STAR report

You can see the March flight path below - which leaves the problem exactly as before for Murdunna and Sloping Main, and makes things worse for Connelly's Marsh and Primrose. We expect that Dunalley and Boomer Bay will see little difference.

Alternative Flight Path 2 taken from Airservices's  Review of Runway 30 STAR  report

Alternative Flight Path 2 taken from Airservices's Review of Runway 30 STAR report

Here is the full Hansard transcript:

Senator McCARTHY: Thanks, Ms Spence. I'd like to go to flight paths with Hobart airport. I refer to the new flight paths that were introduced at Hobart airport in September last year without consultation or notification to affected residents and businesses. I understand the Senator Duniam lodged a petition on behalf of residents and surrounding areas with the minister for infrastructure and transport, which was then Darren Chester MP, on 20 November, 2017 and again with then Minister Joyce on 19 December 2017. As of today, the petition has not been acknowledged. Have either of the ministers been in contact with you about this?
Mr Harfield : There has been notification on the number of complaints and the issues around the move in the flight path.
Senator McCARTHY: Who has the notification come from?
Mr Harfield : We would have got it from the minister's office. I've not personally seen it, so I don't know if it's directly from the minister, but it was from members of the public in Tasmania to the various ministerial offices, as well as directly to us. Just to give clarity on what occurred: we changed the flight path in September last year and that change was to improve the safety of the flight paths into Hobart airport. However, on implementation and after some response back from the community, it became very evident that our community consultation was inadequate and not appropriate.
Senator McCARTHY: So what did you do?
Mr Harfield : We fessed up that we made a mistake and we've corrected the flight path as much as we possibly can, and that will be re-implemented. It's not the exact previous flight path, because one of the navigation aids that it was connected to has been decommissioned with the airport works at Hobart. It will be as close as we can get to the previous flight path. That will be implemented next month, in March. Following that, we put up terms of reference to do a further review, which will have consultation with the community over the forthcoming period, to make further improvements to the flight path and address their concerns.
Senator McCARTHY: When will the communities be consulted in this review?
Mr Harfield : On the initial change that will happen in March, they have been consulted. It's been dealt with. Terms of reference have been put on our website with regard to this, following the review. The consultation will progressively happen over the coming months. In our terms of reference, it can be construed that they will not be consulted until December this year. I can say to this committee that that is not actually going to occur. We'll be consulting with the community well before that.
Senator McCARTHY: Before December?
Mr Harfield : Yes.
Senator McCARTHY: Just on the new Hobart flight path, if we look at the time frame, it says 'implemented in September 2017'. The review won't be completed until March 2019?
Mr Harfield : We'll make the change in March this year, so next month is that initial change. Then that further review would be looking to implement that change in March next year. There's actually a long cycle with changing air routes, which is planning and mapping, plus also we want to make sure that the community consultation is adequate this time around.
Senator McCARTHY: And how can residents be offered relief in the meantime?
Mr Harfield : This change that we're making in March this year, so next month, will alleviate many of the situations that have occurred with the previous change, as it's returning close to—but not all the way to—the previous flight path.
Senator McCARTHY: Okay. Airservices has repeatedly said that the safety of air navigation is its primary consideration, including for the implementation of the new flight path at Hobart, as it should be, no doubt. Do you have any hard evidence to show that air travel in and out of Hobart is now safer than before introduction of the new flight path, and does CASA believe the new flight paths are safer?
Mr Harfield : When it comes to the flight path, the safety aspect is around ensuring there is consistency in those. So it's improving the safety. It's not saying that the situation's unsafe; it's how you can make the overall system safer. The flight path change was giving consistency in certain aspects of the flight path, which means it's much more predictable. Yes, our requirement is that the safety of air navigation is our most important consideration. However, the second consideration is, as far as practicable, to minimise the effects of aircraft operations on the environment, including noise. As we've picked up with the Hobart change, the consideration was purely about the safety aspects. The broader considerations weren't assessed appropriately, and the consultation on that wasn't adequate, so we made that mistake. What we're trying to do with these further reviews is making sure that we can put in something that improves the safety of flying in and out of Hobart but, at the same time, balances the requirements of minimising the noise aspects on the surrounding communities.
Senator McCARTHY: Does any of this have much to do with the Accelerate program, which slashed almost 20 per cent of the Airservices workforce in the last two years?
Mr Harfield : Not at all. There was no real change to any of the functions or any of the people carrying them out. We didn't strip out any functions when it comes to noise. One of the things that we did undertake after the Hobart flight path is that there were some similarities to a previous change in the Gold Coast, which happened in 2016, and a further change that happened in Perth in 2015, well before the Accelerate program. In that review, we did a top-down, very systematic review, because the same issues were coming up time and time again as a systemic issue—around consultation and the way that environmental assessments were being conducted. In that, we found that the people involved at all parts actually had never been in the same room together in all that time. And so we've made changes and implemented a range of things to improve the way that we did it. But I can categorically say the Accelerate program had nothing to do with it.
Senator McCARTHY: So you say systemic issues needed to change. Would you say confidently they've changed now?
Mr Harfield : What I can confidently say is that we've put in a process to actively change those. Those initiatives and recommendations have been implemented. But, because some of them are behavioural, I would like to check in six months time whether they've actually fully changed. The test obviously will be how we improve our community consultation as well as implementing this change to the Hobart flight path this year.
Senator McCARTHY: We'll be checking as well, Mr Harfield. Thank you.