ADS-B approaches The Twyford Zone – but is this another black hole?

25 April 2019 / by Brian Mackie / Consultation, Costs, GA in general, Governance, News, Opinion, Overview, Safety, Security

God establishes initial contact with Adam – a classic example of accurate VFR navigation without ADS-B surveillance. Picture courtesy of Michelangelo

In six days, some claim, God created Heaven and Earth. On the seventh, He rested. There was light, and God saw that it was good. Much later, this also pleased every aviator who did not possess a night rating. Making an entire world out of nothing, in less than a week, is an unimaginable feat of weight and balance, particularly when you compare it to the performance of our Civil Aviation Authority.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford is said to be on the verge of signing off a rule change that will open up aviation careers for pilots with ‘Colour Vision Deficiency.’ This achievement (which is little more than a fragment of applied common sense) has taken roughly 3,265 days – or about nine years – to make it through the labyrinth we know as the New Zealand CAA.

Here on Earth, realtime promises to New Zealanders according to Phil Twyford have included 100,000 “Kiwibuld” houses to be built at a rate which even the Creator, looking down on Godzone, would marvel at – observing, as only He can, our eternal skill shortages and endless red tape. Virtually no Twyford homes have been completed. A few were built in undesirable places and sold off cheap. Phil Twyford expressed full confidence in Wot’s His Name, who was running the homes programme.

Very shortly after that expression of support, Kiwibuild CEO Stephen Barclay resigned and began an employment dispute with his former boss – who also runs the CAA, albeit part-time.

To watch a masterclass in how an oily politician avoids responsibility for failure when confronted by a courteous but ineffectual journalist, you should click on the Wot’s His Name link above.

Phil Twyford: Will he build a robust ASD-B system?

Oh, and Twyford assured the nation that he had full confidence in the Civil Aviation Authority, despite the GAA having supplied him with more than 50,000 words of verifiable evidence and CAA user opinion that really should have caused just a little bit of concern.

Another self-professed Great Leader, Winston Peters, when warned a year earlier of GAA worries about the CAA, challenged us to provide evidence. When we threw him the same book we’d sent to Twyford, he did not even acknowledge it. But by then, Peters was the deputy prime minister, intent on greater ambitions; of which to date there are no results we can identify as having provided a benefit to any New Zealander – apart from, perhaps, Winston Peters.

Twyford’s record of miracle-working is dismal, but he is The One Above who determines the success or otherwise of ADS-B for general aviation in New Zealand. Creating an efficient ADS-B surveillance system is far easier than creating Eve from Adam’s ribcage. It’s a simple matter of incentivising all those in GA to take part in the national ADS-B venture – making it affordable for everyone in flight, and making those on the ground somewhat safer. Tempting perhaps, but such an idea requires attention to detail, and Phil Twyford is known as a successful headline-grabber, not a politician noted for an interest in details.

Some of us attended CAA seminars, aimed to update users about the so-called progress of ADS-B. Within the PowerPoint presentation was a line that roughly said “No financial assistance” to GA operators for purchase or installation of ADS-B equipment to make them compliant with the new regime, enabling them to re-assert their customary rights in controlled airspace.

At my seminar, the lead presenter refused to be drawn on whether or not the CAA, or Airways or the Ministry of Transport had any proposals to assist general aviators with the cost of installing ADS-B in their aircraft. She said it was a decision for “Government”. The distressed audience took that as a “No”.

We now understand that this presenter had resigned from the CAA before fronting the seminars. It is difficult to have confidence in the CAA when the person you thought was responsible is then revealed as having previously given notice to quit.

Winston Peters: Looks powerful, but in our case, he seems to be useless

Grown-ups know that politicians with power make decisions which are, in no small measure, based on advice from paid experts. This is, of course, why Twyford will officially pay close attention to every scrap of carefully considered information supplied by people in Airways, the CAA and the Ministry of Transport about the introduction of ADS-B. However, the advice he receives may well have been tempered by the advisors’ career prospects. Whatever, he will tick the box of approval.

What none of us (including himself, says the CAA Director) can say is whether Twyford and the Cabinet will get any advice from the experts at the MoT, the CAA or Airways about how to deal with the one question concerning ADS-B in general aviation: Who will pay for ADS-B equippage for GA?

We don’t know, because the people advising the Minister have not deigned to tell us.

Under current proposals, all the officials promoting ADS-B seem to be implying that private GA will have to stump up the entire cost of compliance.

The consultation: What do we know so far?

More than 1000 submissions were made. That represents, in statistical terms, about 30% of the GA community, which is a surprisingly high response. Those fond of statistics understand that anyone who formally complains will informally tell another ten about their complaint and the ten others will each tell another ten. From then, it grows exponentially to thousands. In the commercial world, this can – and often does – obliterate a business.

The CAA and Airways should do the arithmetic.

What don’t we know?

Exactly what the submitters said (it is suspected that they were not in favour) we cannot yet tell, but it is unlikely that more than a handful volunteered to be victims of what’s currently suggested.

It should be noted that 70 percent of operators in New Zealand GA were apparently unwilling to raise themselves from the LaziBoy to support this cause. Shame on all GA couch potatoes. You could have helped to influence the course of events, instead of either paying your subs to an organisation and leaving it up to “who you paid for” to meet the challenge, or presuming that committed volunteers would take up the cudgels. They clearly did, and if you did not make a submission, you let them down.

Is there any official proposal to help GA?

ADS-B will impose significant and unrecoverable costs on private GA operators who wish to maintain their rights of access to controlled airspace, and these costs were long ago recognised in an independent study which clearly showed the financial injustice of what Airways and the CAA (silently) are proposing.

The GAA has for years been seeking advice from the CAA and the Ministry of Transport about its approach to this dilemma. They have consistently refused to respond in a meaningful way.

As the deadline for submissions approached, we again consulted CAA Director Graeme Harris. He would not say if he knew of any suggestions from anywhere in officialdom for financial assistance to GA. He told the GAA:

“As you will be aware, there are very strict conventions governing what state sector employees can say related to the budget process. Unfortunately those conventions are such that I cannot tell you whether a budget bid was made and if so by which agencies”.

Here, Mr Harris was disingenuous. The GAA has never asked for this to be made a “budget” matter, because that would mean asking for taxpayer support.

Graeme Harris: He somehow thought we wanted taxpayers’ money (which is actually his money and ours) – which we don’t

Mr Harris then introduced another irrelevant diversion. When we asked about subsidies, he said: “If you think about any proposal for government to subsidise the installation of ADS-B equipment, it would be competing for funding with spending on the reduction of child poverty, provision of more affordable housing, welfare and health spending and education – to name just a few of the demands on taxpayer dollars.”

The GAA has neither entertained nor suggested “government subsidising the installation of ADS-B equipment”. Nor has any other aviation organisation, to our knowledge. If anyone else has, they might – like us – know that governments, National or Labour-led, have quite rightly spent an estimated $40 billion on the Christchurch rebuild and another $14 billion on restoring the quake-damaged roads from Picton southwards, without a sign of taxpayer revolt. Was any of this vast amount of our money wasted? Has it harmed our vital public services? Would a total publicly funded ADS-B for GA damage our nation’s balance of payments? All this is irrelevant nonsense.

We require peanuts, and not a single nut from tax revenue.

The CAA, whenever it suits, pursues the doctrine of User Pays and its customers comply unless they detect blatant unfairness, as we witnessed with the introduction of absurdly excessive medical application fees and charges for weather information which followed the CAA’s withdrawal of funds to MetService. That, in particular, was an egregious failure of the authority’s duty of care.

For the CAA Director to suggest, even innocently, that general aviators seek tax-based subsidies for ADS-B borders on an insult.

The GAA has never asked “government to subsidise”. What we require is financial assistance to GA for ADS-B from the entity that is building the system and which it will own and control.

When we asked where the funding for Airways’ ADS-B infrastructure was coming from, Graeme Harris said: “I’m assuming that they are paying for the ground-based infrastructure from reserves generated by revenue and deferred dividend payments – or perhaps even debt.” Oddly, he made no mention of taxpayers’ money…

Airways is where we expect assistance for general aviators to come from. Airways is a State-owned commercial operation which is required by its owners to operate on the same principles that drive private enterprises. It is expected to run efficiently in order to make a profit and return a dividend to the owners, which means you and me. This dividend goes into the Consolidated Fund; so, after it lands in that slush fund, that income cannot be tracked to expenditure.

There is no evidence that any taxpayer money is being spent on ADS-B infrastructure. The installation of ADS-B in aircraft by GA operators is an investment in the new surveillance infrastructure, just as it is by other Airways customers such as Air New Zealand.

The big difference is that private GA operators cannot recover the equippage or maintenance costs of ADS-B for their contribution to (and occasional use of) this system. Commercial operators, who will rely on (and substantially benefit from) ADS-B can write down the costs and/or recover them from customers. Much the same can be said of Airways, which we predict will hugely benefit from a reduction in its overheads and the automation of regional airports, such as Gisborne and Invercargill.

Gisborne, the world’s only runway with a railway – and probably the loneliest manned regional airport’s ATC tower in New Zealand

And this isn’t simply a question of costs. At Napier, for example, the shortage of qualified air traffic controllers has been a poorly disguised crisis for a long time. It has caused serious disruption for passengers, and many have missed international connecting flights as a result. This trouble is the result of a loss of staff  which cannot be easily resolved, and the problem is not helped by the CAA’s rigid regulatory approval and oversight of controllers, in a relatively quiet regional airport which does not actually need a control tower because existing on-board technology can already ensure safety.

We know that private and commercial crews operating in and out of Napier are cooperating to maintain an orderly flow, in the frequent absence of ATC personnel. The technology exists to eliminate manned ATC at most of our regional airports, and properly equipped people in flight (that’s to say, in due course, everyone using ADS-B Out, and preferably In as well) will be more than capable of handling themselves without the help of anyone on the ground. We’re mostly flying in more or less empty airspace, not around Heathrow or Los Angeles.

ADS-B will probably be followed by EC (Electronic Conspicuity of all aircraft or, put plainly, a spy in your cockpit) as part of the creeping development of total autonomous surveillance, as well as remotely controlled regional airport towers (of which Invercargill has been named as the trial site). The implications of all this are becoming clearer to general aviators, but we must also try to help Phil Twyford, who has no aviation qualification.

The minister should note the stance of aviation organisations, which we can summarise by stating:

  • The requirement that private GA operators must fully fund ADS-B installations to meet the conditions of Airways’ infrastructure is unreasonable, unfair and unacceptable. Airways must come to the party.
  • No responsible person in any aviation organisation is known to have sought a taxpayer contribution for ADS-B equipment or installation for private operators.
  • The position of GA-related organisations that have stated their opinion is: the total cost of equipment and installation for GA operators is for account of the creator and owner of the ADS-B infrastructure in New Zealand, which is Airways. An alternative proposal is that Airways meets 100% of the equipment cost and 50% of the installation costs.

This will not cost the Earth.