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Dick Smith predicts collisions if CASA won't allow warnings

SAFETY FIRST: Dick Smith is urging CASA to change regulations for planes flying into airports like Hervey Bay, to improve safety standards.
SAFETY FIRST: Dick Smith is urging CASA to change regulations for planes flying into airports like Hervey Bay, to improve safety standards. Chris Mccormack

AUSSIE businessman Dick Smith is predicting a "major collision" at the Hervey Bay Airport if the Civil Aviation Safety Authority does not allow ground staff to notify planes about obstacles on the runway.

"There will be people dying at Hervey Bay," Mr Smith said.

"I'm amazed there hasn't been a major collision on the runway as has happened overseas."

For 10 years Mr Smith has lobbied CASA, and aviation portfolio Minister Warren Truss, to overhaul regulations and improve pilot and passenger safety.

He claims the current regulations banning ground staff from notifying pilots in flight about any dangerous obstacle or weather on the ground is putting lives at risk.

Mr Smith is pushing for regulatory changes to allow existing airport staff to give the information and become a "Unicom" - providing information on planes or weather in the aerodrome, but not directing the pilot on how to fly their plane.

This differs from an air traffic controller, who is able to instruct the pilot's direction and route.

"It could be the person who does the re-fuelling or the person who checks in passengers," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith, a renowned civil pilot, launched an attack on Mr Truss for not pushing CASA to change rules and allow ground staff to communicate with pilots in the airspace above, if for example there was a hazard a pilot could not see.

Under current rules at Hervey Bay, this would not be allowed.

He said he had met with Mr Truss, the Member for Wide Bay, about the issue.

"I've sat in his office and explained to him how, at a place like Ballina or Hervey Bay there should just be a local radio operator, someone who's already there at no cost," he said.

"He nods and looks as if he agrees but never says anything."

Mr Smith said he feared the worst if Mr Truss didn't stand up to change the regulations and planes were flying blind.

But a spokeswoman for Mr Truss said an independent review of the Australian aviation system conducted last year confirmed Australia had an excellent, high-capacity regular public transport safety record.

"The review identified opportunities to improve the system to ensure Australia remains a leading aviation state and the Deputy Prime Minister has agreed to the implementation and detailed examination of all but one of the review's 37 recommendations," she said.

Mr Smith also wants commercial jets using Hervey Bay's runway to be radar controlled from the Brisbane Control Centre.

Currently, commercial planes flying from Brisbane or Sydney to Hervey Bay are controlled by air traffic operators on most of their journey.

But as the plane approaches Hervey Bay and lowers to below 8500ft, pilots only have the radio and limited instruments to identify other aircraft.

The entrepreneur said passengers on the daily Qantas or Virgin flights would be horrified to find out their captain wasn't able to utilise air traffic control.

"On a winter's night with a huge storm and lightning on the runway the pilot is not allowed to talk to anyone on the ground," Mr Smith said.

But CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said any aerodrome that wanted a Unicom could apply to have one.

"If Hervey Bay thinks they would like to have or need to have an Unicom there's nothing stopping them," he said.

Mr Smith plans to visit the Fraser Coast at a date yet to be decided to discuss the issue with interested parties.

Topics:  casa, dick smith, hervey bay airport




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