No plans to privatise Airservices: Minister

 

Airservices new air traffic control tower at Adelaide Airport has officially opened.
Airservices is to remain in public ownership.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester has reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to keep Airservices in public hands.

Industry groups such as The Australian Aviation Associations Forum (TAAAF) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) have called for Airservices to be privatised and the proceeds used to fund initiatives designed to support the sector.

The federal government has said previously it did not support the privatisation of Airservices and Chester said on Tuesday there was no change to that policy.

“There are no plans to privatise Airservices,” Chester told ABC Radio’s RN Breakfast on Tuesday.

“I’ve made those comments publicly before and I am making them here again today.”

Earlier in 2016, a government-commissioned report from KPMG recommended the consideration of “different ownership structures” such as “part-private ownership” for Airservices.

The comments come as Airservices continues its restructuring program, dubbed ‘Accelerate’, that includes about 900 positions being made redundant as part of efforts to cut costs.

The air traffic manager’s chief executive Jason Harfield told Parliament recently the job cuts would come from “back of house operations” and support areas.

“This Accelerate program is not touching our front-line service delivery, which is aviation rescue and firefighting and air traffic controllers,” Harfield told the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee on October 17.

“They are actually excluded from the Accelerate Program.”

Harfield told the committee about 580 people had left Airservices via redundancy between January 1 and the end of September, with the figure expected to reach 709 by the end of calendar 2016.

“The further projected 200, or thereabouts, will be the result of either voluntary redundancies or potentially involuntary redundancies in areas that are assessed as such,” Harfield said.

J_Harfield2 RAAA
Airservices CEO Jason Harfield. (Seth Jaworski)

AOPA, which represents the interests of the general aviation sector, Civil Air Australia, the professional association for air traffic controllers and the Virgin International Pilots Association have criticised the proposed job cuts citing safety concerns, according to a report on the ABC website.

Further, the ABC reported unions representing the workers had sought a hearing at the Fair Work Ombudsman to stop the job cuts.

Chester said he had “received assurances” from Airservices that the proposed job losses would not impact safety.

“As the Minister responsible I take the safety issue incredibly seriously, and since taking on this role I’ve met with the Airservices chairman, Sir Angus Houston, and the chief executive and sought assurances and received assurances that there’ll be no impact on safety as a result of the restructure,” Chester said.

“It’s important to note that Airservices Australia isn’t just doing this off its own bat, it’s actually overseen by CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and it has been consulted throughout the process.

“Now, if the union has some genuine concerns, they can certainly raise those with Airservices, they can raise them with CASA, or they can come to me directly.”

In August, Harfield told Airservices’ annual Waypoint industry conference the Accelerate program would address what he described as a “relatively fixed and inefficient cost base” that left the organisation unable to “fully offset the first downturn in our aviation revenues in 25 years”.

“Over the next 12 months the Accelerate program will deliver an annualised reduction on our cost base of 15 per cent. This will return Airservices profitability to more sustainable levels and allow for an appropriate dividend back to government,” Harfield said.

Airservices’ 2015/16 annual report showed the organisation posted an underlying net profit after tax of $1.8 million for 2015/16, which was “broadly in line with the previous year’s results”.