World first or world’s worst?

ADS-B capability was mandated from 12 December last year for IFR operations in Australia for all aircraft flying at or above flight level 290. What happens if your system stops working, or if you’re from one of the other nations, where it’s not yet mandatory? A discussion with an average GA pilot the other day touched on the subject and we got a bit of an earful on how “black letter law” is working out in practice.

Here’s his commentary:

Case 1

I was sitting in the FBO in Perth last Saturday having a coffee before heading to Karratha when a neat -looking N-registered Gulfstream V taxied past. The FBO manager said it was foreign-owned and heading back to the USA, but had to taxi to the international terminal to clear Customs.

I thought ‘that’s Australia for you; you have to start and taxi a $50 million jet full of VIP’s’ – four engine cycles instead of two, a whole lot of extra kero fumes pumped into Perth’s pollution haze as well. Cart your passengers across the whole airport where they have to disembark into the heat or rain, walk across the tarmac and dodge through the bowels of the baggage handling area to front some officious Customs person for their passports to be stamped, then retrace the obstacle course, reboard their aircraft and depart.

Is it just me? Wouldn’t it be simpler, cheaper and more customer-aware to get Customs to come to the FBO? And just think of the lawsuits if some global mining magnate got flattened by a baggage trolley! Do some of these Customs blokes get a buzz from buggering VIPs around?

Wonderful image we projected to those VIP’s; how up to date and sophisticated Australia is…NOT!

But it didn’t end there.  We taxied out and met the Gulfstream at the end of the departure runway; he was headed to LA, which is quite a long a long way, especially if you have to do the first few hours at FL280. He departed ahead of us and later we both transferred to area frequency. Then we heard ATC ask him if he had ADSB exemption. UH-OH! I thought. But this guy’s on the ball; he came back with a “yes, it was arranged through your office in Queensland.”

The poor sod hadn’t allowed for CAsA bureaucracy, ATC came back with, “That exemption only covers your arrival into Australia; you need one to depart, therefore you will have to maintain flight level 280 until leaving Australian airspace” (which was about three thousand miles away!)

Poor pilot: “You’re kidding me!” Nope; they were adamant. He now has to consider if he will make tech stop in Australia and run the whole scenario again, or try and reach an offshore one which has graduated beyond the sailing ship days.

Another voice cut across the VHF, “Welcome to Australia mate, the only third world country where you can drink the water!”

Now in my imagination I see a rather pissed-off VIP in the back dialling his sat phone and saying “Tony, that billion dollars I was going to invest in Australia, changed my mind, you people are just too backward!!”

That couldn’t have happened in the time available but maybe there was a flash of common sense somewhere because the ATC guy came back on the radio and said his management had decided to waive the requirement and gave them a climb clearance.

Case two

I’m operating a Cessna Ultra on an emergency medevac from Karratha to Perth with a critical seven year old on the “life port.”

Our primary aircraft, which the company spent a couple of hundred thousand on to make ADSB compliant was unserviceable, so we were using the back-up that’s yet to equipped with ADSB (which will nearly double its value.) So we were stuck at flight level 280 when we entered moderate turbulence. This was very late at night, with not another aircraft within 500 miles of us.

The Doctor was getting a little perturbed that the patient was being upset so I asked for a higher level, which was denied unless I wanted to declare an emergency. Nobody will declare a mercy flight in Australia now, because it opens you up to the whole gamut of CAsA bastardry. There are people who have lost their licences and businesses because CAsA disagreed with their assessment of what constituted a mercy flight.

Fortunately we flew out of that area of turbulence after a while, but if that child had died, I couldn’t help wondering would Mr McCormick have accepted that his desperate desire to big-note himself at Montreal had contributed to ADS-B’s first fatality?

I somehow doubt it.

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About Paul Phelan

Paul Phelan flew for over 50 years in private, charter, corporate and regional aviation, worked in senior management roles with a major regional airline, and retains his license. In parallel he has been writing for Australian and international aviation journals for well over 20 years on all aspects of aviation including aircraft evaluation, flying, industry affairs, infrastructure, manufacture, regulatory affairs, safety, technologies and training. He has won three separate National Aviation Press Club awards for "best technical aviation story of the year."

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