Australian Airspace: Crisis in Watiing

Australian Airspace: Crisis in Waiting 

Australian airspace, air traffic control and continuous air movements with Australia are on a collision course with crisis. In this article we examine the current capacity of Australia’s airspace management, growth within the air movements sector, aviation management and whole-of-business preparedness. Those with exposure to the Australian air movements sector, both commercial and government should read this article.

By the end of this article you will have a precise understanding of the key issues and indicators for crisis affecting Australian airspace. Armed with this information and insight, users, providers or government agencies should then commence a process of resilience to mitigate these threats in conjunction with questioning the key stakeholders on just what they are doing to reduce, manage or eliminate these growing risks.

Airspace Management

Only two key centres service and manage the entire Australian airspace, up to and including international boundaries as far as India and the mid-Pacific. Neither centres have the capacity to assume responsibility for each others territory, in the event that one or both are disrupted or unserviceable. While some airports have air traffic control, including some limited military bases, none of them have the scope, resources or capacity to supplant the primary airspace management hubs in the event of crisis. The demand to all services, and the time (not to mention cost) for recovery from relatively low-level disruption events all but guarantees prolonged outage and limited to failed services across the country in the event of failure.

Simple Failures, Big Dramas

On a far too frequent basis, the general travelling population and aviation providers are repeatedly alerted to the pending potential for wide spread crisis. Weather, labour disputes, ageing equipment, denial of services and software glitches halt all inbound and outbound air movements from one or more of Australia’s largest airports. A recent incident, caused by a simple safety device, resulted in the complete closure of one of Australia’s largest and busiest airports. Passengers on board where repeatedly updated and informed in detail what cased the failure, all the while aircraft, passengers and air movement users waited for the simple, manageable situation to run its natural course. This one disruption along lasted over an hour during peak usage, on one of the world’s busiest routes.

Growth and Demand

Up to 20 new airports or air movements service hubs are planned to open in Australia within the next 12 months. Tourism Australia and the entire hospitality industry are promoting and projecting ever increasing demands on Australia’s airports and air movements hubs. The resources growth dispersed around the country, along with Australia’s natural infrastructure expansion have all resulted in new, update or busier travel nodes. Due to a technical labour shortage, Australia is also importing more overseas workers to support all these significant growth areas. Many of these workers, and growing Australian workers are commuting on fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) work schedules. There is constant lobbying and jockeying by international carriers to increase their options and frequency for flights into and out of Australia too. All this results in an ever increasing growth and demand.

Privatisation and Step-by-Step Problem Solving

Airports in Australia are now primarily autonomous. Not governed by an one central structure or conjoined commercial management strategy. They do as they see fit for their own local markets, in order to turn a profit, exclusive to over arching federal governance. The privatisation of the systems and resources that manage Australia’s airspace movements are only recently required to generate profits and commercialise what was a federal government agency. The net result of all these changes and inexperienced commercial practices is what has become a step-by-step management and problem solving culture. Only individual problems are solved, as they occur, with little coordination on the system as a whole or what is best for the system rather than a particular issue.

The Path to Resilience

There is no doubt that there are major infrastructure purchases and enhancements that need to take place. However, better planning and alternates for transferring of flight data and shared air space management are immediate steps that could be started.

Location based resilience planning, that which is practical and works to negate some of the avoidable service disruptions, needs to evolve from the days of government service to that of commercial supply.

Centralised oversight and coordination is a key aspect missing from the current structure. There is little to no ability to make decisions on behalf of the divided sectors, along with support to either location in the event of a sustained disruption.

Despite the rigorous training and education for operators of air traffic control and airspace management, greater self-management is required in the area of business resilience and disruption minimisation.

Conduct a non disruptive crisis simulation. In a very short period of time everyone will understand the vulnerabilities, possibly already aware of the key issues and treatment solutions, to focus on the plausible events that have or could take place and potentially render the country’s airspace unusable for a protracted period of time.


Australian airspace resilience and general preparedness to adequately manage risk needs to improve or face almost certain crisis. In this article we examined the current capacity of Australia’s airspace management , growth within the air movements sector, aviation management and whole-of-business preparedness. Those who will benefit from this article are those with exposure to the Australian air movements sector. You should now have a precise understanding of the key issues and indicators for crisis that will impact Australian airspace.

Now that you have this information and insight, being a user, provider or government agency you should now commence the process of resilience to mitigate these threats, in conjunction with questioning key stakeholders on just what are they doing to reduce, manage or eliminate these growing risks before you an many more are inconvenienced or unnecessarily placed at risk when the system fails.

Tony Ridley

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