Why Airways’ new pricing plans are aimed in the wrong direction

12 March 2013 / by the GAA team / Consultation, Costs, Governance, Safety
ATC - almost entirely for the benefit of commercial aviation

ATC – It is almost entirely for the benefit of commercial aviation

The proposed Airways new charging regime would see the doubling of ATC charges for arrivals, and the revisiting of that old chestnut about charging for VFR entry to controlled airspace. For those compelled to live on aerodromes with air traffic control, a doubled handling charge will be a serious and unavoidable imposition. So it’s demonstrably unfair in that respect alone.

But there’s much more to these proposed increases than meets the wallet.

Tim Dennis writes:

Access to the airspace in New Zealand is a right. I am sure that when Airways came into being in 1987 there was much debate and argument about the charging regime. Airways gave commitments and I believe part of its mandate with the Government was that it must facilitate access to the airspace for all users.

Controlled airspace and therefore Airways Corp exist for the sole benefit of the commercial users and fare-paying public. It provides no benefit at all to GA users (quite the contrary). Therefore all costs of its operations should be paid for by those who benefit – ie commercial users and fare-paying passengers. Since GA derives no benefit at all and is frequently frustrated or prevented from private activity by Airways’ presence, there should be no cost to GA.

The Australian and USA systems I have operated in actively promote and encourage GA users to be part of the system, thereby reducing airspace infringements and improving safety. Airways also does that, but the possibility of charges – no matter how small – will discourage it. People will modify their behaviour (often quite irrationally!) when there is a likely cost. This will lead to unsafe actions and decision-making, airspace infringements, non-compliance (turning transponders off, not talking on the radio, not asking for assistance when required, and so on).

Attempts to avoid charges will increase traffic in the narrow low-level transit lanes which are not suitable for high traffic flows.

Non-compliance which results in a mid-air collision will undo all of the savings and headlines such as “Airways charging regime root cause of mid-air disaster” will do nothing for the industry or the travelling public!

The costs to all parties of such a charging regime in administration will be prohibitive, thereby seriously diminishing the benefit. This will include arguments over whether or not a fee should have been charged, collection of small charges, refusal to pay, aircraft owners not being able to recover costs from pilots or not knowing if/when a charge has been incurred, and so on.

The correct actions would be:

1. Actively encourage not-for-profit GA use of the airspace and communication with controllers at no cost, and positively facilitate access.

2. Review the airspace in light of the modern commercial fleet of pressurised turbo-prop and jet aircraft which have steeper climb and descent profiles, higher cruise altitudes, GPS approaches etc, to free up all controlled airspace under 10,000 ft that is not actually required. All the areas outside the control zones should have their lower limits reviewed and the steps brought closer to the terminal.

3. Look to create VFR transit lanes over, as well as around, the large terminal areas that block large parts of the country, for example Auckland, Hamilton, Ohakea, Palmerston North, Blenheim, Nelson etc – wherever possible. I understand this happens in the USA.

 Tim is a CPL(A) D Cat with 40 years’ experience and about 4500 hours total time. He owns a PA18, teaches tail-wheel and flies a DC3 as co-pilot. He flew for Bell Air during early fights with Airways over charges in the late 1980s…

Write to Airways

In its latest newsletter, AOPA reminds us that hard lobbying from AOPA persuaded Airways to drop the proposed charge for VFR entry to controlled airspace for two years. “As expected, these charges are back on the agenda. The AOPA stance is that we object strongly to charges for lower airspace transit, aerodrome control zones and the like, but can live with reasonable and fair upper airspace charges, for controlled VFR. The logic is that we request the help in upper airspace, but in general have little option lower down. Members who fly often really should read the [consultation] document carefully to find out how much money they could be up for in a year.

“However we believe that private VFR presence in the main causes no extra cost to Airways. More work probably, but no extra cost. Commercial GA training traffic in Tauranga and Hamilton has led to extra costs for Airways and they see these charges as belonging to GA. They are looking to VFR transit charges as part of cost recovery for this. We regard this wholly unacceptable, and urge members to write to Airways to communicate this.”

Aye to that – and not only AOPA members!

There are only a few days left to tell Airways what you think of its plan. Submissions close on March 15.

♦ Airways failed to answer GAA’s invitation to provide a plain-English summary of its proposals for the website. It would have spread the explanation far beyond the confines of a few seminars that proved inaccessible to most people…