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Flightwatch – 27 VHF outlets being closed

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Flightwatch – 27 VHF outlets being closed

Old 12th Nov 2007, 00:40
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Flightwatch – 27 VHF outlets being closed

There have been discussions on this website in relation to the Airservices decision to close down 27 VHF Flightwatch transmitters and transfer the workload to ATC. There have been various suggestions that could stop this from happening.

On 2 September 2007, Bendo stated:

Ok guys - we are in the lead-up to an election.
Surely someone can pull a Dick Smith or a Boyd Munro (sorry Boyd) and put themselves in a situation where they needed the information from FW and couldn't get it …
Anyone flying Warren Truss or Mark Vaile around in a Metro of Chieftain any time soon?.....
Bendo is suggesting some type of action to stop this safety reduction madness (which is only driven by cost) from going ahead.

Personally, I’m not into pulling stunts, but after talking to a number of senior air traffic controllers (including a union official), I’m horrified with this dictatorial decision by Airservices. There has been no consultation with the air traffic controllers who are now responsible for the extra workload, and no consultation with the industry that is to be affected.

Like many, I only use Flightwatch occasionally – but when I use the service it is a safety imperative. I agree that there are many times when the existing air traffic control outlet can provide the Flightwatch information. However there are times when air traffic control is busy – especially in bad weather – where it will be impossible to get Flightwatch information from ATC.

Yesterday I was flying back from my farm, and when I came onto the Sydney Radar frequency of 124.55 (the frequency which is now to be used for Flightwatch) the operator was amazingly operating 5 different frequencies. I asked her, and she said that she had Sydney Approach, Sydney Departures, Sydney Terminal, Sydney Radar, and one other. I just couldn’t believe it. Imagine then requesting Flightwatch information on weather – it would be simply impossible.

The frequencies were being retransmitted. There were parachuting operations at different places, Qantas and British Airways approaching and departing, floatplanes giving announcements in the Broken Bay area, and a rescue helicopter requesting a direct clearance to Coffs Harbour. Imagine, on top of this, trying to change flight plan details or get detailed weather on the same frequency!

There has been no consultation, and no safety cost benefit study, when making the decision to close the 27 transmitters. The claimed savings (look at the letter from Mark Vaile here) are only $500,000 per annum. Yes, that is less than 1/10th of 1% of the Airservices income – almost immeasurable for the potential major reduction in air safety.

Following are some other comments which have appeared on this site in relation to the closure of Flightwatch.

On the D & G General Aviation and Questions thread “Flightwatch VHF gooooooone!!!!”, on 29 October 2007 JackoSchitt said in relation to the closing of Flightwatch outlets:

You hit the nail on the head. As your busy doin' vectorin' victor an' stuff as the Wx clags in, like say a ring of TS around MEL, and everyone wants the Wx at MEL and for their alternates - something has to give.

How the hell it is going to be "effective and more efficient" than a standalone function that can be accessed in parallel to the traffic service rather than instead of a traffic service is beyond me. I don't need to have vested interest to see that surely?

Go back to the creation of the Flightwatch function in the first place, It was to take away the distraction or providing in-flight information from ATCs on TAAATS. How exactly has THAT necessity changed?
On the same thread, on 25 October 2007, Direct.no.speed, an air traffic controller, posted the following:

Mate, I work as an ATC, and I don't understand it. Nor frankly do I have time to provide a FIS.

I don't like how all this is going to end.
Well, it is obviously going to end in an unnecessary accident, isn’t it?

It is a most extraordinary situation. I have today taken action against Airservices in an attempt to prevent this crazy safety reduction with no real resultant benefit. See here for a copy of the letter sent to Airservices. If they do not agree to consult properly with the industry and do a proper cost benefit study, we will be in court by the end of the week. I’m sure a responsible judiciary will make a decision to ensure that the law is followed.

I’m personally angry that I have to spend my money on this type of thing. I would rather donate it to the Salvation Army or the RFDS.

Before everyone starts abusing me, please come on side on this important issue. I have never, ever supported the closure of a separate Flightwatch system, or passing on higher workload to air traffic controllers, whom I understand are understaffed at the present time. The situation in Sydney on Sunday would clearly show that there is an understaffing issue, or some other problem.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 01:11
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Right behind you Dick.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 01:38
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This thread has been "stickied" as there are very important safety issues involved.

It appears AsA staff are being burdened with ever increasing workload, particularly whilst ATC numbers appear to be under strength.

A recipe for disaster?

A professional, rational debate please.

Tail Wheel
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 03:28
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Thanks for the support so far.

I would imagine that Airservices Australia Board members are looking at this thread to see whether the industry agrees that there has not been proper consultation in relation to closing down 27 radio transmitters.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 04:07
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I support you fully on this Dick.

But the $500Kpa seems a little light on; that might be the physical costs, but having the FW operators plugged in on the other side (and wages there of, plus facilities on costs etc.) would be a significantly larger number than that.

Such is the nature of the ASA beast at present, consultation = announcement or briefing, the elephant doesn't change course unless whacked. See the thread on night shift operations; 5 TIBAs in 14 days since the change; controllers reporting doing the whole night without a single break, excluding mad dash to toilet, because they have no faith in their employer and or the regulator.

DTI is next though Dick? There are no coins in that either... Did someone say SARTIME?
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 04:25
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SM4 Pirate, thanks for the support. I think the $500,000 per annum is correct, as it is basically the cost of the satellite links and the power etc for the transmitters. Remember that the HF Flightwatch remains open, and I understand this means the same staffing levels – maybe someone else can elaborate.

By the way, there is money in the DTI (Directed Traffic Information). Everyone pays a full IFR enroute charge for DTI – the same as if you are flying in controlled airspace. It certainly is an earner for Airservices.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 04:39
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...It certainly is an earner for Airservices.
That IMHO doesn't pay its own way.
and I understand this means the same staffing levels
Well no, more than 1/2 the consoles in FW will close, thus 1/2 the staff will go (I would guess, some already have cashed in their VR cheques); then there is the great HF plan, to shut it down too... HF on ATC consoles maybe?
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 06:38
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SM4 Pirate

controllers reporting doing the whole night without a single break, excluding mad dash to toilet
I am sure I am stating the obvious, but that situation scares the out of me. Does anything in your story sound familiar to the loss of a Russian airliner and a freighter a few years back........

All of us should get some support behind these things being challenged and fixed, from GA bugsmashers like me through to the heavy metal drivers.

J
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 06:44
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All the way behind you dick!

On a side note (question). I believe airlines use a rough rule of thumb that every sole on board is worth $10mil USD, should they loose an aircraft. (please correct me if I'm wrong)

Does ASA have any such figures? I'm sure if (god forbid) an incident should occur and ASA is dragged in to court by the coroner the $500,000 p.a. they saved removing this service will seem like a drop in the ocean?
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 07:00
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From what I do know

Flightwatch has 6 consoles.

2 do HF for 3 international type areas - 24/7

3 do HF for 3 domestic type areas - but close to only 1 console on overnight shifts.

the last one does VHF Flightwatch daytime, M-F only and the frequencies move to the open domestic type HF consoles for weekends and overnights.

I could be wrong but the staffing requirement for Flightwatch VHF as done by the Flightwatch people is only for the daytime, M-F, so I'd say 3 people absolute tops (and those people are paid less than ATCS)

As for saving money on turing off the equipment, I'm told that equipment is going to be handed over to ATC to enable them to do the function in some areas.

You do the math but I think $500K is on the high side.

As for "Money in DTI" - If only you said that some 8 years ago Dick!
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 07:04
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Although I back you Dick ... (as I support the principle that Controllers are there to keep tin apart... and FSOs/FISOs/Briefers, or whatever you want to call them, are there to provide information for pilots to base decisions on) .. the chooks have flown the coop. The majority of those who were providing Flightwatch have been shown the golden door.

There ain't nobody left to provide the service ... except Controllers.... and there's bugger all of those left too.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 08:47
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Good on you Dick! Like you, I seldom have the need to use Flightwatch, but, when I do need it, it is usually to help me to make a safety related decision by having timely access to weather or other operational information. More often than not, the times I would like to use Flightwatch are when the weather is bad and controllers are managing more IFR operations, with less time available to them to provide Flightwatch services.

As many have observed in other posts on this forum, even with the current VHF outlets available and with the current staffing level, actually contacting Flightwatch can be difficult. There is no doubt that this has led to a situation where many pilots are deterred from even attempting to contact Flightwatch, either because they have little faith that they will get through at all, or the extra workload associated with repeated (often futile) attempts to establish contact cannot be safely accommodated by the pilot.

It is true that many of the accidents we have in Australia each year could be averted if the pilot made a different decision. What we will never know is how many better decisions would have been made had the pilot accessed timely information from Flightwatch. I’m sure most of us reading this post can think of recent accidents where a pilot may have made a different decision if he or she had had better operational information at the time.

Your example of a controller working five frequencies at a time is interesting because, when workload permits, we ought to be doing this, it does make economic sense when safety levels can be maintained. What is disturbing is that it appears to be happening more often, at a time when ATC staffing levels are so low that even TIBA procedures are being used routinely. It is difficult to accept that Airservices are able to maintain the required safety levels and this will certainly get worse if the controllers now have to provide the complete VHF Flightwatch service.

It would appear that Airservices have again ignored their own safety system and not done any proper consultation, hazard assessment, safety case or cost benefit analysis. I suspect any methodology they chose would show that, for a cost of only $500,000.00 annually, the safety benefits are substantial.

Let’s hope that some common sense prevails and you do not get to court. If you do have to go to court though, I’ll donate $1000.00 to the RFDS.

Last edited by SCE to Aux; 12th Nov 2007 at 08:57. Reason: Improved readability
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 09:08
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totally agree with you on this one Dick.

You have my full support!
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 09:21
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Thumbs up

Right behind you on this Dick.

Yet another Airservices decision which reduces services and safety without adequate consultation with those most affected.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 09:29
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Dick

Airservices Australia has done the wrong thing, and I support the principle of your argument.

However, and unfortunately, the ‘Australian government’ is now so deeply infected by spivs and camp followers, second-rate Pollyanna graduates who either know no better or barely touch the ‘stepping stone’ on the way to a real job, and drones who are too scared and lacking in self-esteem to walk away, that it doesn’t really matter what’s right and wrong any more.

This government’s run by people who don’t comprehend the difference between right and wrong, or if they do, they’re either ambivalent or too scared to do anything about it. In any event, they’re ready and able to spend loads of taxpayers’ cash to defend their position. The government’s flush with cash as a consequence of its unparalleled capacity to tax on one the hand but spend little on infrastructure on the other, and it’s happy to use that cash to defend the indefensible, litigate people into the ground, and trash people’s reputations – it’s all a part of ‘good government’, don’t you know.

It must be in the public interest to shut down dedicated FIS: the government decided to do it, or at least decided to allow a government agency to do it. The government is, by definition, the only body in a position to determine what the public interest is.

No, that last sentence isn’t a quote from Orwell’s 1984: it’s what Dr Peter Shergold, the current Secretary of the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, believes.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 10:39
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Everybody concerned needs to stop covering up the holes in the system by working around the holes. If a pilot needs weather and a dedicated flightwatch frequency is not there anymore, then make sure you get it through the ATCO. Don't just try and manage without the weather cos that means you are covering up the problems in the system.

Similarly if a pilot is forced to fly through airspace classified as TIBA due to ATC staff shortage, don't just pay for the service that you did not recieve, refuse to pay. If you pay, you are covering up the problems in the system.

Its easy to say from outside, but if the controllers are being forced to combine sectors above what they would like due to staff shortages, refuse to. By combining the sectors inappropriately, you are just covering up the problems.

If controllers keep working overtime to cover up the staff shortages the staff shortage will never be acknowledged by management, and hence will never be fixed. By working overtime, you are just covering up the problems.

If controllers provide break relief on single manned positions they are not rated on, ASA will think it is acceptable practice not to have rostered break relief on nightshifts.

If everyone stops covering up the problems, all those in charge cannot continue to plead ignorance, and will have to face up to ramifications of their past decisions. They will be forced to fix the problems, otherwise all these problems will one day line up like the holes in the swiss cheese and we will have another Uberlingen, heaven forbid.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 11:09
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From a personal point of view, I used the FIS service at Kalamunda regularly in order to save asking on the lower level frequencies as congestion on those can be down right unbelievable (ask anyone around leonora/leinster/wiluna on any day around 3/4pm). I was advised the other day that this FIS was being closed and to ask the area controller in future... Are you for real!!!???? That was the whole point of asking this guy in the first place. I intended on easing the burden on the poor S.O.B on area. I then get six people trying to make a departure call on the same frequency when departing a non VHF equipped aerodrome but not getting a look in because some other eejot is getting a metar. Now, we are being told that this is how it's done now??!!?? Sorry, but the person deciding how to run the show has never ever sat in my seat. If they had and gone ahead anyway they should be hauled up immediately in the interest of the greater good.

I will bet anything that the airservices charges have not dropped a dime in the past 10 years. The service however has changed remarkably and it hasn't been going up as has our workload and frustration due to our lives being made harder for no seemingly good reason.

Dick, I hope you and us a community succeed in ending this depreciation in support conditions especially when it is one that we pay through the nose for.
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 11:29
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This is the second time that there has appeared to be a change by the provider without consultation with stakeholders or any comment from the regulator.

What is the proper procedure if the provider reduces or ceases a service such as this, surely it is a change in airspace requiring a safety study and stakeholder imput?

What is the actual action required? Is it simply we are not going to do it any more because we ...statement of relevent facts etc....? or a simple straight decision taken by senior management.

Does anyone know the procedure used?

Cheers Mike
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 11:58
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This week I tried to cal MEL centre with a flight plan ammendment as per company SOPs due Wx and was told to call back later as the ATCO was flat out with IFR aircraft wanting diversions due to multiple CB's etc etc. After landing we couldnt cancel our SARTIME as reception was crappy, on top of that mobile coverage was non existant and the only public phone at the airport had long since been vandalised and was not going to be fixed.....Telstra cost cutting??

By the time I hitched a lift to the nearest servo, and begged to use their phone, our SARTIME had expired by 45 mins and a SAR uncertainty phase had been intitiated. Because we couldnt give the flight plan ammendment they wouldnt have known where to go looking for us.

I wonder how many hrs in the SAR Do328 $500,000 will buy.

So now we have lots of non english native speaking students on area frequency trying to give flight plan ammendments, clogging up the frequency.

I guess now we shouldnt bother with flight plans at all.

Hmmmm, just how much per hour is the SAR Do328?

Pratts!!!
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Old 12th Nov 2007, 14:56
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fish

Dick,
I too am behind you 110%.

I am absolutely outraged at the situation described above in a previous posts.

AirnoservicesAustralia said

Everybody concerned needs to stop covering up the holes in the system by working around the holes. If a pilot needs weather and a dedicated flightwatch frequency is not there anymore, then make sure you get it through the ATCO. Don't just try and manage without the weather cos that means you are covering up the problems in the system.

Similarly if a pilot is forced to fly through airspace classified as TIBA due to ATC staff shortage, don't just pay for the service that you did not recieve, refuse to pay. If you pay, you are covering up the problems in the system.

Its easy to say from outside, but if the controllers are being forced to combine sectors above what they would like due to staff shortages, refuse to. By combining the sectors inappropriately, you are just covering up the problems.

If controllers keep working overtime to cover up the staff shortages the staff shortage will never be acknowledged by management, and hence will never be fixed. By working overtime, you are just covering up the problems.

If controllers provide break relief on single manned positions they are not rated on, ASA will think it is acceptable practice not to have rostered break relief on nightshifts.

If everyone stops covering up the problems, all those in charge cannot continue to plead ignorance, and will have to face up to ramifications of their past decisions. They will be forced to fix the problems, otherwise all these problems will one day line up like the holes in the swiss cheese and we will have another Uberlingen, heaven forbid.
Everybody should take the time to reread his post again and take his message completely to heart and act upon it literally every time we go flying and run into the situations he describes.

In particular for the pilots among us his first two paragraphs.

When asking for weather information or other critical safety information and you do not get from the controller because he is too busy to provide it and yet this is the situation air services has forced him and us into and the system they want us to follow then speak your mind on the radio so it is on the tapes and on the record!!!!

Normally of course we are trained to not argue with the controller nor question his decisions as to why maybe he cannot grant us a request such as a new level or routing etc and and of course it must be this way during the course of normal operations or the system would not work.
The situation we are talking about is NOT a normal operation if we ask for critical operational information, such as latest weather and it is denied to us due to the particular controller having too many responsibilities or frequencies.
I will certainly tell the controller exactly what I think if he tries to blow off my request for some necessary information.
If the situation so demands than the pilot can advise him an emergency is likely if the information is not forwarded as requested.

We then need to write down the frequency and time when such incidents occur so that we can then send in details to the Briefing Office and say on the recorded tapes you wish a formal complaint filed, then on to ASA, CASA, or the ATSB as required. If they start getting enough phone calls and formal complaints from pilots every single day when such things occur that should bring more attention to bear on the subject.

His second paragraph re not paying for services not provided is also absolutely critical !!
Make a note of time and frequencies and areas where services are not being provided and then pass them on to your employer and strongly suggest or insist (as you are able) that at the end of the month when they send ASA their cheque that payment for the following flights was withheld because services charged for were not provided.
Every Pilot working for every company needs to do these two things on daily basis as they occur so that more and more bureaucratic attention is drawn to these faults in the system instead of just being covered up because we are too apathetic to spend a few minutes acting on our frustrations at the situation.
If enough phone calls are made, e-mails sent, letters written and Air Services en route charges not paid on a daily basis things will surely be changed.
All the controllers out there need to follow his suggestion is in his other points on a daily basis as the situation demands.

If we let the cracks in the system start appearing every day instead of trying to cover them up to keep things moving along, despite some initial frustrations by both pilots and controllers then attention will be brought to bear and we can fight to have the situation changed.

As far as the situation nomorecatering describes, which is outrageous in itself, if it happened more and more often and SAR phases were declared unnecessarily the cost and paperwork involved by those CASA and ASA along with the pilots report of the situation and circumstances to them and or the ATSB will start raising awareness levels of everyone including hopefully the idiots who made such a decision as cutting out Flightwatch to begin with. I certainly hope you did file a report/compaint describing the situation you described to everybody who is relevant. If not PLEASE DO SO TODAY!!!
To sum up, both pilots and controllers need to be proactive in the circumstances described above in order to get things changed or as we all know the bureaucrats and managers involved will never change anything except for the worst has appears to have happened in this case.
If we don't we all know that at some future point despite the best efforts of everyone who will be involved to prevent it,a smoking hole in the ground and God knows how many dead will be the result.
Too late then to have the findings of coroner's inquest and ATSB sent to ASA and CASA etc.
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