Airways New Zealand is responsible for 30 million square kilometres of airspace, stretching from Antarctica to Samoa, but it is unlikely to become the Bermuda Triangle of the South Pacific.
Ed Sims virtually dismissed the chance that a big aircraft could be lost in New Zealand airspace.
"The likelihood of a large commercial airliner disappearing from monitoring and separation technology and communication would be equivalent to losing a large commercial truck on a motorway for hours on end.
"It's almost inconceivable."
But it could happen. Sims explained that during an international flight, say from Brisbane to Auckland, there are a series of handovers - from the Brisbane tower, to Australian enroute controllers, to New Zealand enroute controllers, then finally to the Auckland tower.
"With premeditation, it could be possible to assess those handovers with regards to disengagement of aircraft systems . . . They are not designed with deliberate subversion in mind."
State-owned Airways' primary role is to ensure aircraft do not fly into one another.
Over the past 20 years, Airways has provided air traffic management, navigation services and consultancy in more than 65 countries.
The success in selling to the world is important to the future of Airways NZ, which is looking to move the tracking of all domestic aircraft from radar to satellite navigation over the coming decade. It would cost an estimated $300 million.
If you have flown in New Zealand, then your safety has been in the hands of Airways NZ.
It manages more than one million flights each year into and around New Zealand's airspace, ensuring a minimum of 5 nautical miles separates domestic aircraft.
It is also responsible for keeping aircraft safe in Antarctica and the South Pacific where a 50 nautical mile separation zone is enforced.
All up, about 7.5 per cent of the world's total airspace is managed by Airways NZ.
Sims said each year the domestic 5 nautical mile zone would be technically breached around 30 to 40 times. Typically this would involve aircraft being a couple of hundred metres closer together than they should be. Sims said these incidents do not compromise safety, although they are vigorously investigated.
A major factor for controllers is dealing with a large diversity of aircraft, the varying speeds they travel, and the wake they leave - from helicopters and two-seater Cessnas, gliders and gyrocopters, to the massive Airbus 380 which services Auckland Airport.
"You wouldn't want to be in a two-seater Cessna sitting behind a A380 because it would rip the canopy off, literally, just because of the displaced air that sits behind it.
"The guys [controllers] have to use a lot of mental agility to assess that separation standard as a minimum."
But it is expertise in time management, as much as separation standards, which Airways is selling around the globe.
Sims said passengers heading to busy airports such as Heathrow have come to accept they will be stuck in "holding patterns" waiting for the aircraft to land. Holding time is built into the official travel time.
"In New Zealand we don't have those holding patterns because we haven't got the volumes that a place like Heathrow does. But that takes a bit of work to avoid having that holding pattern."
Sims said air congestion had almost been removed in New Zealand, which Airways was looking to sell internationally.
"But how do you export that to other parts of the world . . . where it feels like it is unavoidable?"
Airways is active in the training of air traffic controllers.
Earlier this month Airways announced at the World ATM (Air Traffic Management) Congress in Madrid that it would provide air traffic services operations and air traffic management courses at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.
It is just its latest customer in a long line which includes outfits based in China, Hong Kong and the Middle East.
And future demand is unlikely to ease, with rapidly expanding economies such as India needing an extra 1000 air traffic controllers. Indonesia needs another 500.
"We get them to think in a way New Zealanders think. That is moving back from the best solution [of no air congestion].
"Over the last four years, we've been training 60 of the absolute elite air traffic controllers from Saudi Arabia who bring their guys down here for two years at a time."
Training in this country happens at Airways Christchurch or Palmerston North academies.
Airways has developed 360 degree state-of-the-art Total Control simulators depicting airports in a variety of countries.
"If you were training looking at Auckland Airport, we could push a button and you'd be looking at Johannesburg instantly with simulated weather and congestion simulation in a real time environment.
"That is readily exportable."
Airways was recently approached by airline giant Emirates seeking a training simulator built for it.
Sims said Emirates currently operates between 40 and 50 A380s but wants to increase that to 100 over the next couple of years.
He said Dubai was near two huge pinch points - in Qatar and Bahrain.
"They [Emirates] estimate that just between those two pinch points they lose something in the region of US$100m [NZ$117m] a year in fuel by holding between those two points."
An Airways team is currently working with Emirates Aviation College in Dubai.
The second arm of Airways revenue generation is called Flight Yield, a market-leading automated aeronautical billing and payment system.
Basically it allows the effective management of aeronautical charges for a wide range of services such as terminal, air-navigation and enroute fees to departure tax, airport development and security fees.
This simplifies and speeds up the task of recovering costs directly from airlines or other customers, and reconciling revenue collected on your behalf by other agencies.
Sims said about 18 months ago Airways teamed up with SITA - a multinational information technology company specialising in providing IT, telecommunication and ticketing services to the air transport industry.
It has a global sales team representing around 450 airlines.
Airways also partnered with the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, the global voice of air navigation service providers, which Sims said would offer Flight Yield as the industry standard to its members.
"That revenue management side is hugely powerful for the airlines and I think it's likely to become as powerful for air traffic controllers in the future. We want to be right at the forefront of that."
A third area of revenue generation is a joint venture with a consortium of Austrian, Spanish and German air traffic control organisations to map suitable approach paths for aircraft.
The consortium developed the Euro Control concept which would bring uniformity to 42 air traffic control organisations operating in the European Union.
"It's [Euro Control] been really successful in reducing costs for customer airlines, and therefore passengers.
"But no one has yet exported it to Asia. We approached that consortium and we will offer it to Asia on an exclusive basis."
IN THE AIR
Surveillance [or tracking]
Primary radar, ground-based sensory projection technology covers relatively short distances and can "see" aircraft whether or not they want to be detected.
Secondary radar transmits a message to an aircraft and the aircraft "talks" back, identifying itself and its location and speed. Secondary radar relies on the aircraft having a transponder. The transponder receives information from a more sophisticated radar than primary, and relays information to air traffic control.
Voice contact with pilots
Uses high-frequency and very-high- frequency radio; a useful contingency method of communicating over long distances like oceans.
Number of pilots on flight deck
There is no mandatory standard number, but there are rigorous rules around rest periods and fatigue management. Therefore, the number of flight deck members is normally determined by the length of the flight.
The Black Box
The so-called Black Box can't be turned off, but its effectiveness as a recording of voice as well as electronic communication depends on it being discovered [after an incident/accident].
- Airways NZ chief executive Ed Sims
- The Dominion Post
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