Darwin and Townsville passengers set to pay for government IT blowout

Passengers on the Mount Isa – Townsville route could be slugged with extra costs under secret air traffic control plans to contain an IT costs blow-out. Photo: Townville AirportPassengers in Townsville and Darwin airports are likely be slugged with additional charges to subsidise a computer rollout fiasco between two federal government departments.

The issue is as a result of the rollout of the troubled OneSky program which is aimed at replacing military and civilian air traffic computer systems.

Civilian air traffic control is run by Airservices which is developingOneSky with input from the n Defence Force.

The plan is to introduce one combined system in what would be ’s first harmonised civil and military air traffic management system.

According to Airservices, thejoint One Sky approach “is enabling us to introduce new cutting-edge air traffic management technology to ensure we improve safety and efficiency for civil and military air traffic, while catering for the significant forecast growth in the aviation sector.”

Airservices and Defence had an agreement on a fixed-price ratio between the two however documents obtained by Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick under Freedom of Information show that the ADF is baulking at the skyrocketing costs of the project –being delivered by French contractor Thales – and they are looking at options including passing on costs to passengers.

A September 2017 letter from Airservices CEO Jason Harfield to Airforce chief Air Marshall GavinDavies admits there are “emerging concerns within Defence” over costs and as a compromise offered facilities and equipment to the military toconsolidate Darwin, Townsville and Nowra (NSW) services in Brisbane.

“We would intend to recover these costs by extending our existing charging regime at Darwin and Townsville for civilian aircraft,” Mr Harfield said in his email.

Airservices have refused to confirm or deny this plan but Senator Patrick –who is on the committee looking into rural and regional air fares –questioned whether the proposal breached competition law on cross-subsidisation.

“We put in an FOI request about another matter and it so happens among the correspondence Jason Harfield said they would shift project control to Brisbane for Townsville and Darwin and ‘don’t worry, Defence, we’ll recover the costs from the regional operators,” Senator Patrick said.

“This is out of touch with what I would say are community expectations.”

Senator Patrick said he would ask Airservices about the letter at upcoming Senate estimates in two weeks time.

“We will grill Airservices on how they approach this andhow they charge back, rather than charge it across the entire industry, why would they impose this on rural passengers.”

Senator Patrick said they were dealing witha cost blow-out by passing it on to the regions.

“It’s not acceptable,” he said.

North West Star

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