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Thursday, 4 December 2003
Page: 24037

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (9:46 AM) —Merry Christmas to everyone here and to your families. I hope that it is a safe Christmas, but hearing news of that near air collision in Melbourne makes me very concerned for air safety over this Christmas period. The immediate impact of Australia's new airspace regulations has been to increase the workload of regional air traffic controllers and force airline pilots to take extreme precautions to avoid midair collisions. Safety has always been by far the most important element in the development of the aviation industry, so it could be assumed that to jeopardise even slightly Australia's enviable air safety record there must be huge benefits from the new rules. Yet many in the industry are at a loss to find any benefits of significance and only the slightest saving in costs.

There is a concern that the new system has been brought in to benefit private pilots by reducing the restrictions on when and where they might fly and their need to tell anybody about their plans. I highlighted that in a speech earlier this week. It is a romantic, freedom-in-the-sky approach that will please the recreational flyer. But neither Airservices Australia, which administers the rules, nor the federal government has succeeded in selling the idea to those who fly for their living. In a system that requires much greater visual checking for light aircraft, commercial pilots are now employing extraordinary measures such as insisting that seatbelts are fastened at 3,000 metres on airport approach in case emergency action needs to be taken. They have also adopted a regime of calling on all light aircraft in the vicinity for position checks. It is a procedure that is usually adopted only in developing countries. Launceston and Hobart, as I pointed out in my speech earlier in the week, are without radar and are at greater risk than airports in major cities. The public are confused, many light aircraft operators are still trying to come to grips with new plans and procedures, and airline pilots are warning of a disaster. The federal government must urgently rethink the whole issue—either fix it or forget it.

Those words are similar to those that I used in my speech earlier this week when I outlined the unique circumstances that exist in Tasmania, particularly the problems associated with moving into category E airspace. I offered some constructive solutions which have also been offered to the current Minister for Transport and Regional Services by the Tasmanian minister for transport, who is responsible for air safety in Tasmania. As on most issues dealing with the transport minister, particularly related to airport security and aviation, we have heard no word from the minister. Those words largely came from the Examiner newspaper of 2 December, not from me, and they reflect the views of the Tasmanian community, just as my colleagues and I do. (Time expired)