The CFZ network: How GA won, but the CAA denies us a safer place to fly until 2016

10 February 2014 / by Brian Mackie / Adventure, Consultation, Costs, Governance, Overview, Safety

Tucked away on page 12 of the latest CAA Vector magazine is a small but significant article – the result of submissions to the Radio Frequency Consultation. It quietly announces the CAA’s “plan” for a national system of common frequencies.

A problem with flying is that...

A problem with flying is that…

This article shows, from its brevity and its position in the magazine, that either the CAA’s Vector editor has no news sense or that the CAA would prefer to camouflage the reality:

♦ That – for approaching two decades – the CAA has been in denial about a fundamental aspect of general aviation safety: The need to protect low-level aviators against the risk of not hearing each other because pilots are using different frequencies while flying in the same area.

♦ And how, by the application of a force of opinion – much of it from outside what the CAA currently recognises as officially received wisdom from the established aviation organisations – plus a hefty dose of common sense, we aviators dragged the Civil Aviation Authority to recognise what actually happens in real life, in the air.

♦ All of us know that the idiocy of a 119.1 general frequency has caused a number of needless incidents, injuries, accidents and deaths.

♦ We know that many of them could have been avoided if the CAA had possessed the wits to early recognise the risks inherent in 119.1 and fulfilled its duty of care by dealing with it.

We now know that the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority seems slightly inclined to make our skies safer in this respect…

♦ but only when it suits those who spend their working lives in, and derive their power from, CAA in Asteron House.

... the people who think they can avoid air accidents...

…the people on the ground who think they can avoid air accidents…

By the time the CAA introduces a network of Common Frequency Zones in November 2016, nearly two decades will have passed since the idea was first suggested by a former CAA director. This is almost the equivalent of one generation of aviators.

Bear in mind that what is stated in the Vector article is not a promise. It is just an unsubstantiated claim from unidentified and unaccountable people whose mindset was always fixed on opposing any idea offered by their customers and whose shamefully poor performance and sometimes disingenuous conduct is revealed again later in this article.

None of this can be denied by the CAA, which until late in 2013 doggedly pursued an alternative FISCOM solution suggested by Mike Haines, Manager Aeronautical Services. He was opposed by the vast majority of users and his peculiar notion could never have been provided by existing technology nor executed by Airways staff. We asked Airways about this when The Haines Solution was raised, and they could not explain how it could work – or who might pay for it.

...live in offices, cannot fly an aeroplane and shouldn't be put in charge of a pocket calculator

…live in offices, cannot fly an aeroplane and shouldn’t be put in charge of a pocket calculator

To illustrate the difficulty in achieving change within our CAA bureaucracy (particularly as this subject has such important air safety implications) it is worthwhile to look back at the timeline of Massey University School of Aviation’s involvement. Of particular interest is that in 1998, the CAA, under a different Director’s watch, prepared a discussion document suggesting a future development of a national CFZ network.

2010

♦ Following the establishment of the Taranaki CFZ in May, Massey tabled the idea of establishing CFZs nationwide. This was a well thought out proposal to create a series of CFZs throughout NZ to overcome the serious flight safety problem of having aircraft operating in close vicinity to each other, but listening on different radio frequencies.

♦ Emailed CAA in August to submit the idea.

♦ Received very positive feedback from CAA Aeronautical Services Officer and Manager Aeronautical Services. CAA supplied a discussion document it had created in December 1998 suggesting the future development of a national CFZ network.

♦ From August, began working with local users in the lower North Island to produce a CFZ network in the region.

♦ Concept was tabled at Palmerston North Airport User Group, Feilding Aerodrome User Group, where it was met with full support.

♦ Discussed with RNZAF, with full support.

♦ Discussed with Airways, which had no objections.

2011

♦ January: a formal request for establishment of CFZs with draft proposal was sent to the CAA.

♦ April (3 months later): received formal reply from CAA Field Safety Advisor (on behalf of Aeronautical Unit) indicating it had been “put on the backburner”.

♦ June: received formal reply from CAA Aeronautical Services Officer, saying the proposal had been put on hold indefinitely as it did not attract a high priority at the CAA.

♦ November: Safety Management System (SMS) was introduced at Massey. Through this system, the hazard and risk assessment of the lack of common frequencies and increased traffic flow in uncontrolled airspace was deemed to be unacceptable and the project was revived.

2012

♦ During March, a paper was completed by Massey outlining the case to establish a “National CFZ Network”.

♦ This document was presented to RAeS, with full support.

♦ Tabled at AIA Training Division, which agreed it was a good idea.

♦ Discussed amongst Air New Zealand Aviation Institute FTO Partners, with full support.

♦ Article published in the August edition of Pacific Wings.

♦ Presented at CAA Flight Examiner seminar in August, with 100% support from the group.

♦ Communicated to Len Wicks Regional Officer Air Traffic Management ICAO Thailand. He says: “Regional Office fully supports the concept”.

♦ RNZAC Flight Instructor Council supports a full review of the radio frequencies used around NZ and would like to be involved with any ongoing discussion on this matter.

♦ Early November: Meeting held at Massey with CAA to discuss CFZ proposal and the industry support gained.

CAA indicated it was in discussions with Airways around the use of FISCOM as an alternative means to meet the uncontrolled airspace radio issues.
Meeting outcome: A response will be given to Massey from CAA in 2 – 3 weeks with industry consultation expected before the end of the year, with a suggested implementation by March / April 2013.

♦ Late November: Massey checks with CAA on progress. CAA indicates the following timeframe:

Dec 2012, finalise Airways provision or a national flight information service and FISCOM coverage. Dec 2012 / Jan 2013, Discussion document issued to industry in regard to radio frequency, use of FISCOM and review of current common frequency zones. End Feb 2013, consultation complete. March 2013, Final decision made on radio frequency network. April 2013, Finalisation so any charting amendments can be made for Nov 2013.

♦ Mid December: Massey checks with CAA on progress.

CAA responds to say several meetings are under way with Airways and AOPA and things are coming together. Rather than rush it out before Christmas, they would rather address it early 2013. A revised timeframe should be given by the end of the week and a meeting with Massey in mid-January.

2013

♦ Late January: Massey checks with CAA on progress.

CAA responds to say higher priority work and one staff member resigning has resulted in a reprioritising of tasks. “You will see we ran an article on ‘the right frequency’ in the Jan/Feb CAA Vector”. CAA planning on having a document out for comment by end of February at the latest. Draft for Massey and AOPA by end of next week.

The proposal had obviously stalled and GAA assisted in pushing it to the forefront again, with the result that the CAA then produced its own proposal, involving an “upgraded or enhanced” FISCOM service.

Most of the major GA pilot organisations were proactive in promulgating the two proposals to their memberships and a number of individual submissions were also made. A survey of opinions that we carried out via email and website produced very definite preferences for Massey’s CFZ proposal.

Our GAA submission extended to about 20 pages. Included were some pertinent comments from the respondents to our survey, which gave a clear indication of the importance that pilots attached to the air safety implications arising from the present radio frequency confusion. In its report of submissions on the CAA website, the authority slyly stated that the GAA submission contained opinions that made its submission fall less than unanimous. That is because we accept all opinions and treat them impartially. The overwhelming majority of GAA contributors wanted a system of common frequency zones.

It is disappointing to now discover that the CAA, whilst at long last accepting the preference for CFZs, has said that “planning of the zones will be done in conjunction with the Airspace Review, currently under way”. Target date for implementation of the network of CFZs is not until November 2016.

You may well wonder what will happen if, during the next almost three years of delay imposed by the CAA, we have further airspace incidents due to having aircraft operating in close proximity on different frequencies. The CAA’s lethargy in addressing such a serious air safety issue over more than 15 years is unacceptable.

The performance of the CAA over the CFZ issue reveals a dereliction of duty for which Michael Haines and the Director Graeme Harris cannot escape responsibility. The Director, in particular, is answerable for the information that his staff fed to Massey during its campaign.

It is hard to understand why the CAA chooses to delay implementation of this plan, even on a region-by-region basis, rather than take the risk of twisting in the wind in the event of another easily avoidable disaster. There is no reason why a staged implementation of a national CFZ system cannot be carried out. This safety measure is not (and never was) related to an airspace review. The need for a CFZ network predates the airspace review by 16 years and lumping it to an airspace review is clearly designed to disguise the inexplicable prejudice of CAA personnel and their stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming opposition.

There is no reason why, the CAA having finally accepted the argument for a national CFZ network, we should wait for three years. This system can be implemented in stages with the most urgent areas being given priority.

Look at the CAA Mission Statement, which pledges “To manage safety and security risks in New Zealand civil aviation through the implementation of efficient oversight, regulatory, and promotional action” and you can only conclude that the CAA has dropped the ball on this issue and failed on all three counts.