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Ten years of aviation safety neglect

By Dick Smith - posted Tuesday, 19 December 2006

It is ten years since Australia turned its back on air safety reforms now taken for granted in most of the developed world.

This deliberate avoidance of air safety changes with clearly defined benefits will inevitably end in a major disaster involving a jet airliner in this country.

And the travelling public will be scandalised to learn through the subsequent Royal Commission how strong willed airline managements and weak willed ministers took decisions that betrayed the trust people had come to place in carriers that falsely trumpeted their “safety first” credentials.


There are, in service in Australia today, more than 150 airline aircraft of less than 30 seats capacity that could not legally fly anywhere in the US or Europe because they are not fitted with a traffic alert and collision avoidance system.

These devices, called TCAS 1, have been compulsory in America since 1995, as has a more elaborate system called TCAS II for larger aircraft. Australia only adopted the latter, and had no choice but to do so, since without such devices our airliners could not legally use any of the commercially important air traffic corridors or airports in the rest of the world.

The penny pinching over TCAS 1 for small airliner operations is a seriously flawed decision.

Automated collision avoidance systems are necessary because Australia permits aircraft of all sizes and speeds to fly through large areas of identical air space without the continual direction of air traffic control.

There has been no mid air collisions between aircraft fitted with TCAS in the world since it came into use and where the pilots followed the advisory calls.

A peculiarity of Australian rules is that light aircraft that use controlled airspace are compelled to fit transponders that tell big jets where they are, but leave the 30-passenger and fewer airline flights without TCAS in the same air space.


TCAS safety rules were followed internationally by TAWS, the Terrain Awareness and Warning System, which is an enhanced ground proximity warning system that has been compulsory in the US for all turbine aircraft of six or more seats since March 29, 2005.

This is the greatest safety innovation of the past decade, yet there is no similar requirement for its use in Australia. Old ground proximity warning devices only look down and issue an alert to pull up, often when it is too late. TAWS looks forward.

If this requirement for TAWS had been in force in Australia on May 7 last year it is most likely that our worst airliner crash in 30 years at Lockhart River in Far Northern Queensland would not have occurred - yes, 15 people could be alive today.

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First published in The Dick Smith Flyer on November 2, 2006.

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About the Author

Dick Smith is one of Australia’s most recognised individuals. After a successful business career in retailing and publishing, Dick has become well known as a restless adventurer, making many pioneering and record breaking flights by helicopter, aeroplane and balloon.

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