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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 917


Senator CHAPMAN (11.20 a.m.) —On behalf of the Liberal and National parties, I indicate at the outset that as with the previous Bill, which dealt with a different subject, the Opposition will be supporting the passage of the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1993. The Bill amends the Excise Tariff Act 1921 and seeks to validate duty collections pursuant to excise tariff proposals which lapsed following the dissolution of the Parliament earlier this year.

  The excise tariff proposals I have just mentioned provide for a reduction in excise duty on gasoline used in aircraft—that is, avgas—as well as an increase in the excise duty on tobacco and its products. In respect of avgas, it has already occurred in two stages with the blessing of this enabling legislation. The first stage was effective from 7 May 1992 and the second from 19 August 1992. As a result, the price of avgas falls by a total of 2.1c per litre. But not unlike petrol, as motorists would know, the cost of avgas varies according to location. For instance, in Canberra it is currently available at 89.9c a litre, which includes a 5c freight charge. In my home city of Adelaide it is available for about 84c a litre. Overall, the excise still represents about 30 per cent of the cost of a litre of avgas.

  Under the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1992, the excise was reduced by about 1.02c per litre, from 26.4c per litre to 25.38c per litre. The reduction in excise has occurred because of the Government's promise—one of the few promises the Government has made that it is going to keep—to reduce excise duty, as the cost of providing the services to aircraft funded by that particular duty also falls.

  The total reduction has come about because of the 1990 transfer of federally owned aerodromes to full local ownership, and the encouragement of aerodrome owners receiving federal funding to accept full financial responsibility for their aerodromes. So the Government is no longer responsible for the cost of maintaining and administering those aerodromes. It is also the result of savings achieved by the Civil Aviation Authority, following the removal of rescue and fire fighting services from secondary capital city airports. This move was supported both by the industry and by the Opposition.

  In respect of the increase in the excise on tobacco and tobacco products announced in the 1992 Budget, it is intended to address, in part at least, some of the social costs to the community of people's smoking. The excise increase will be $5 per kilogram, increasing the price from $52.50 to $57.50 per kilogram. Concerned though any government ought to be regarding the social costs of smoking, an unfair burden should not be placed on smokers by inappropriately inflating the cost of such products. Both these excise duties—that is, on avgas and tobacco—as I understand it, took effect last year pursuant to excise tariff proposals Nos 1 and 2 of 1992. Notwithstanding the lapse, collection of duties continued at the rate specified earlier. Hence, this Bill proposes the validation of those collections.

  Sadly, as far as light aircraft operators are concerned, what this Labor Government giveth with one hand it taketh away with the other. Unfortunately, the savings they will gain through reduced excise will be more than offset by the additional cost to general aviation engendered by the Government's proposed new airspace management system. Even more importantly, the new airspace system announced recently with great fanfare by the Civil Aviation Authority is fundamentally flawed and potentially dangerous. It is like no other system in the world.

  The original plan, introduced by John Wright and his AMATS team, had the desirable aim of harmonising Australian airspace with the rest of the world, as well as reducing costs and allowing Australians to purchase proven air traffic control equipment. An

outline of this plan was published in a Civil Aviation Authority publication, entitled Improving the Management of Australian Airspace. The airspace system that the Civil Aviation Authority plans to introduce in Australia contains unique features which have never been tested anywhere else in the world and which are potentially dangerous.  Civil Aviation Authority board members do not appear to appreciate the high risk that they are allowing to be inflicted upon Australian aviation—a situation for which the board, the Department of Transport and Communications and the accident-prone Minister for Transport and Communications (Senate Collins) will have to accept responsibility. If one looks at the diagrams and comparison charts showing the Civil Aviation Authority—


Senator Collins —What has this got to with an excise Bill?


Senator CHAPMAN —It has got a lot to do with the excise Bill. I made the point that on the one hand the Government is reducing some of the costs for general aviation but, on the other hand, as a result of these measures, it is going to increase them. That is why it has a lot to do with this particular Bill. When the Minister interrupted, I was referring to the diagrams and comparison charts shown in the Civil Aviation Authority booklet. I seek leave to have a copy of a chart incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The chart read as follows—

[CHART OMITTED FROM DATABASE - SEE HARD COPY PAGE 919]


Senator CHAPMAN —I thank the Minister and I thank the Senate. If we look at the charts, it is clear that the original proposals put up for airspace had only minor differences, such as cloud separation requirements, from the International Civil Aviation Organisation's recommendations. Those proposals resulted in a simple, easy to learn, system. However, under the system now proposed by the Civil Aviation Authority the differences are major. These include unique and complicated radio procedures for visual flight rule aircraft in class E and class G airspace, thus negating the only reason for these classifications of International Civil Aviation Organisation airspace.

  There are more differences. First and most important, in the original plan an ATC service was to be provided to all instrument flight rule aircraft to ground level where traffic levels were high but would not justify a control tower. This is the system in both the United States and Canada, and the airspace is called class E. It is transparent to visual flight rule traffic and it is not as costly as the existing high level controllers providing the service, as the diagram shows.

  Under the new proposals this air traffic control service will stop at 5,000 feet in radar airspace and 10,000 feet in all other airspace, which covers about 80 per cent of Australian airspace. No other country in the world has such a system. The Civil Aviation Authority has invented a mandatory traffic advisory frequency procedure in an attempt to compensate for the lowering of safety. Unfortunately, this is an unproven system and completely at odds with the existing mandatory traffic advisory frequency where all instrument flight rule traffic is provided with flight service traffic information.

  This unique mandatory traffic advisory frequency procedure will be complicated and totally different to that applying in any country in the world, and effectively negates the whole reason for changing the airspace, which was to be harmonisation with best world practice. Australian pilots flying overseas and overseas pilots flying here will have to learn and adapt to totally different procedures. More importantly, the advanced Australian air traffic system equipment will now have to be designed for the unique Australian airspace system, resulting in potential huge cost blow-outs and delays in commissioning.

  Another major difference is the mandatory transponder or radio requirement for aircraft above 5,000 feet in en route radar space. This is not an International Civil Aviation Organisation recommendation, and again no other country in the world has shown it can afford such a restrictive and expensive requirement. In the United States, that requirement is now 10,000 feet; in Canada it is 12 1/2 thousand feet. This unique Australian requirement will cost up to $6 million and only affects general aviation aircraft, as airline aircraft already have transponders. As I said earlier, what the Government gives in one hand in reducing this avgas excise, it is taking away with the other with the additional costs it is imposing on light aircraft operators. If radio is used instead of a transponder, the cost will be even higher as air traffic control sectors will have to be smaller and visual flight rule aircraft will have to be charged for the service.

  No objective cost benefit study has been done for this transponder requirement, even though a comprehensive cost-benefit study has been done for closing down control towers, which, by strange coincidence, represents a cost saving to airline aircraft. Avgas powered aircraft pay the same whether there is a tower there or not—an across-the-board excise, as a result of this legislation, of a bit more than 25c per litre.

  Some thought must be given to what this system would do to air traffic controllers who are, of course, a very professional group. They are losing responsibility for providing safety services to passenger carrying airline aircraft that need and can afford an air traffic control system while they will be given extra responsibilities for large numbers of visual flight rule aircraft operating above 5,000 feet without a transponder. Even flight service no longer provides a service for these aircraft.

  The new system will place professional air traffic controllers in an almost impossible position, as they are to be given responsibility and therefore duty of care for visual flight rule aircraft, including gliders in class E airspace, without the internationally proven protection of the class D airspace procedures. One has to seriously question why we even bothered to move to the International Civil Aviation Organisation's separated instrument flight rule and visual flight rule cruising levels.

  The total injustice of this system is obvious. The airlines claim that, because they pay over 80 per cent of the Civil Aviation Authority's income, they should have most of the say. They have used this clout to bring in procedures which reduce safety to airline passengers but save the airlines many millions of dollars, while forcing additional and onerous requirements and costs on general aviation. However, in the long run, the airlines will probably end up with less safety and higher costs as they will no longer have a thriving general aviation industry from which they can draw a pool of experienced pilots.

  The board of the Civil Aviation Authority has failed to obtain independent, professional advice on these issues—for example, by speaking to North American experts—before making a final board decision on airspace design. Instead, it has accepted the recommendations of the Civil Aviation Authority management. Apparently, Civil Aviation Authority management regards the proposals as not a significant departure from internationally accepted practice. But no country in the world, including Australia, has ever put in place the proposed system of airline traffic, operating into airports such as at Yulara or Cooma, without a traffic separation or information service being provided on other instrument flight rule aircraft.

  The Civil Aviation Authority management has wrongly claimed that this is the practice in Canada. That is clearly not the case, as Canada has yet to move to International Civil Aviation Organisation airspace. However, in its current airspace, which is similar to our proposed class G, airline traffic is provided with a traffic information service from remote VHF outlets and local flight service stations on frequency 126.7. This is completely different from what is being introduced in Australia.

  The Civil Aviation Authority has also wrongly claimed that Canada has a similar system to our mandatory traffic advisory frequency. That is also not the case, as the Canadian system of mandatory frequency has a fundamental difference. It only has a mandatory radio requirement where there is a ground station with which to communicate. The reason a ground station must be present for mandatory frequency requirements is for fundamental safety reasons.

  Civil Aviation Authority management claims that the North American system of class E airspace would cost up to $30 million per annum to implement in Australia. That is completely unjustified and incorrect as a claim, and shows a clear lack of understanding of the criteria used in the North American system. These criteria are based on objective traffic densities and risk modelling. If the same criteria were used in Australia it would mean only class E airspace to ground level at a small number of busy airports with airline traffic but with insufficient traffic density to justify a control tower. This is, of course, as was originally planned by John Wright's team. There would be a cost, but this could be fully justified under the application of objective safety criteria.

  Under the proposed potentially dangerous system, airline traffic will be largely on its own below 5,000 feet in radar airspace and below 10,000 feet in other airspace. This means that large aircraft such 737s going into Yulara or the F28 jets that fly into Cooma—we need to remember that Cooma can be subject to bad weather conditions—will not be provided with traffic or separation services on all other instrument flight rule traffic. This is totally unacceptable, and it is unfortunate that we will probably have to wait for a serious incident or accident before the merit of fully adopting the proven international system is driven home.

  Do not imagine that work force airline pilots and air traffic controllers are happy with the new proposals. It is my understanding that a number of the chief pilots of major regional airlines and a wide range of air traffic controllers are opposed to the proposed system which has now been accepted by the Civil Aviation Authority and which, as I understand it, is hurriedly being put in place for November of this year.

  Under the original John Wright plan the International Civil Aviation Organisation airspace was not to have been introduced until July 1994. The Civil Aviation Authority claims to have industry support for its new airspace system. This may appear to be the case only because the Civil Aviation Authority has convinced industry that the proposed system is based on proven international practice. As I have just indicated, that is clearly not the case. Senior air traffic controllers who have been involved in the development of the airspace proposals and the chief pilots of a number of regional airlines are totally opposed to the parts of the proposals that are unique to Australia and that are as yet unproven.

  Most people in the industry do not understand the proposals and genuinely accept the Civil Aviation Authority's October 1992 aviation bulletin which stated that it was moving to the International Civil Aviation Organisation airspace classifications and harmonising with the rest of the world. In the absence of any widely circulated publicity from the CAA about its changed position, most industry people have assumed that the original proposals remain in place, but nothing could be further from the truth.

  It is hardly surprising that the Civil Aviation Authority board is getting questionable advice. The team that the Civil Aviation Authority has put together for the airspace system project is made up of pilots and Civil Aviation Authority management with no training in the complex job of objective risk analysis of airspace design. Designing an airspace system is just as complex and specialised a task as designing the aircraft that use the airspace—a task that no-one would contemplate leaving to pilots. No person who has an in-depth knowledge of the North American airspace system we are moving to and of the fundamentally different culture involved has been consulted.

  As a consequence, the CAA has attempted to fit its old ideas and culture into the new International Civil Aviation Organisation international system. This is simply a recipe for disaster. While the original proposals appear to have been hijacked by a small group of airline people, we must get the system back on track and follow the safe, simple and proven International Civil Aviation Organisation recommended system, which is being adopted by New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Europe. I understand the CAA is already having difficulty in inventing the new procedures and is being forced into compromises. Let us hope that commonsense eventually does prevail and that we move back to the original proposals to harmonise with proven safety the international procedures so capably brought to us by John Wright and his original AMATS team.

  The proposed system is fundamentally flawed and potentially dangerous. Therefore, the CAA board, the Department of Transport and Communications and the Minister are personally responsible if this system is introduced, because they have failed to obtain proper independent expert advice before accepting the proposals. Only yesterday we saw the Minister profess ignorance of all these matters in answer to a question I put to him during Senate Question Time. Again it is clear that Minister Collins is failing on too many fronts to exercise appropriate authority or control over his Department of Transport and Communications, and thereby allowing it to run its own agenda, whether that be pay television, aviation or whatever comes next. While passage should not be denied to this particular piece of legislation, the time has well and truly passed when this Minister should stand aside.