Why it's wrong

Airservices Australia’s proposed new 20 year plan for managing Hobart airspace relies solely on an automated-satellite guided system, which communicates with an aircraft’s on-board computer to fly the plane.

This system has many significant public interest implications for Hobart, including safety.

  1. Automated systems are not fool-proof

Things can go wrong with automated systems, as illustrated by the still unfolding Lion Air disaster. An unprecedented spike in safety incidents reported in The Mercury (10 October 2018) resulted from from on-board computers being unable to follow satellite guidance. Although Airservices has referred to these issues as ‘teething problems’, documents released under FOI show that it is so worried about them that it has reverted back to human control.

Airservices’s proposed plan does not include backup, such as ground-based navigation.


2. The PLAN is not fit-for-purpose

According to documents obtained from Airservices under FOI, the system is intended for smaller regional airports with very little jet traffic. By contrast Hobart is now one of the top 10 busiest airports in Australia, according to figures published by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport. All other capital city and major airports use a range of air traffic management tools to ensure safety, including RADAR, ground-based navigation and the opportunity to fly ‘visual’ approaches (which allow pilots to look out the window rather than relying on the computer). None of these are included in the Airservices plan for Hobart - why not?


3. The PLAN has disproportiOnate impact on certain areas

Thirdly, the new system concentrates air traffic at low altitude, often a long way from the airport, rather than offering a wide spread of airspace and allowing pilots to select the safest, most efficient route. The resulting noise footprint can drastically change the character of a whole area, e.g. from a sleepy coastal town, peaceful tourist retreat or pristine wilderness area with low ambient noise to a noisy dead zone. Sensitive and careful planning is need to ensure social, economic and environmental harms are minimised.



Finally, given the larger distances required between paths for safety in the new system, the more available airspace the better. Yet the proposed plan places most of the flight paths in a small sector of airspace to the southeast of the airport, creating complexity, retaining the risky crossover point, and requiring unnecessarily longer flight times, since most connecting destinations are to the West (e.g. Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Antarctica, Southwest Tasmania). Given the timescale for this plane, why hasn’t Airservices proposed opening up new airspace which would potentially allow safer and more efficient paths. e.g. to the West of the airport?