No soft landing


DICK Smith loves to fly, yet he avoids landing at Coffs Harbour Airport unless absolutely necessary.

The reason? He claims it is the high cost of fees incurred as a result of Coffs Harbour Airport's air traffic control tower.

The Australian entrepreneur and aviation adventurer has waded into the debate over a three-year 46 per cent increase in tower charges at Coffs Harbour Airport, approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), by writing to mayor Cr Keith Rhoades.

In the letter, Mr Smith said that changes to civil aviation regulations last year enabled the operation of the tower to be put out to competitive tender.

"At the present time, the tower is operated by Airservices Australia, a Federal Government-owned monopoly that is highly inefficient," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith was not advocating the removal of the tower, but rather that its financial operation be examined with the aim of reducing charges instead of increasing them.

"I avoid Coffs Harbour and so does every pilot I know. We all go to Port Macquarie where there is no tower and the fees are far less," Mr Smith said.

Airservices Australia corporate communications manager Richard Dudley rejected Mr Smith's assertions that the service was inefficient and said the organisation would welcome such a move to contest the provision of services if one was available.

"Air Services Australia has always said that it would co-operate and is happy to participate in an environment where Air Traffic Control services are made contestable," Mr Dudley said.

Coffs Harbour City Council general manager (acting), Mr Steve Sawtell, said the issues raised by Mr Smith obviously required further investigation.

"The council's policy is to maintain Air Traffic Control services as part of the airport complex," Mr Sawtell said.

"We don't have a mandate to privatise. The tower is important for the ordered control of our air space given the complex mix of aircraft using our airspace."

Coffs Coast Jet Centre is a small, family-owned-and-operated charter company operating out of Coffs Harbour Airport.

Owner Vaughan Jones said he currently pays approximately $400 a week to Airservices Australia.

"The reason it is so expensive is that (Airservices Australia) have a monopoly," Mr Jones said.

"The irritation is, if I come and go before the tower opens then I don't get charged anything. There are still aircraft coming and going at that time, including the early Qantas flight, so it is not a safety issue.

"There could be a huge reduction in the running cost of the tower without reducing air safety."

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