Alan Joyce Speech: Mapping Our Future: Infrastructure of the Sky

Sydney | Published on 2nd June 2010 at 10:35

Mapping Our Future: Infrastructure of the Sky- Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (opens in new window)

I’d like to congratulate tonight’s winners of the Chairman’s awards. Australia’s aviation excellence is recognised worldwide, and so recognition for Professional Excellence in this forum is very high praise. A great achievement.

It is an honour for me to represent Qantas in this magnificent Australian War Memorial. Qantas is proud to be a sponsor of the aircraft collection and to help all Australians remember the contribution made by their fellow Australians in wartime aviation.

Being here tonight is also a reminder to all of us of the strategic importance of aviation to Australia. Qantas was founded by two World War One aviators who saw the power of aviation to diminish Australia’s vast distances, and close our geographic gap with the world. From World War Two on, aviation has boosted national security and Qantas has played it part to support vital air links; carry out evacuation, rescue and supply flights; and maintain aircraft for Australia.

Today aviation is still a strategic industry. We saw this recently with the volcano in Europe. But it brought home to everyone how important aviation is to national economies and societies. How vulnerable it can be. And that we should never take aviation services for granted.

Here in Australia we have an ingrained understanding that a strong local aviation sector is essential to our national well being. Minister Albanese made this very clear in the recent White Paper, and has been a genuine leader in promoting aviation excellence. Parrallel with the history of Qantas we have a rich tradition of civil aviation and safety leadership in Australia.

Frankly there’s no other developed country in the world that relies on aviation more than Australia. I don’t think we’d like to imagine a scenario in which all the major Australian airports were shut down, even for a few weeks. The consequences for our economy and society would be enormous.

So for all of us in the Australian aviation industry that means we have a duty to ensure that our aviation sector is robust, competitive and most of all, environmentally sustainable.

We need to keep working to make our safe skies even safer, so that all passengers can have utmost confidence in our aviation regime.

We must deliver on the efficiencies that make aviation economically viable. And frankly that economic viability is not a given. There is an old joke that a fool and his money are soon starting an airline. I can tell you that the economics of aviation are tough at best. We must find every opportunity to make our industry as smart as possible so that Australian aviation can flourish.

And there’s a third huge factor: the environment imperative. By this I mean the twin challenges of human-induced climate change, and the dwindling known resources of oil left on the planet. We have a duty – and a necessity – to get serious about environmentally sustainable aviation.

Last year the CEO of BHP Billiton, Marius Kloppers, gave a speech at the Lowy Institute for International Affairs in which he said there were 41 years left of known oil reserves on the planet. I guess that means we are getting down to 40. That might still sound like a long way off, but at Boeing they talk about ‘thirty year bets’ with their aircraft decisions. At Qantas we are making decisions on fleet that have twenty year consequences. So we are now operating within a period of potential paradigm shift. We only have to look at the BP disaster unfolding in Gulf of Mexico to see that oil exploration and recovery is already getting more risky and expensive. At the very least, no-on disagrees that jet fuel prices will go up over time, so we have got to find ways to fly in the most fuel efficient manner and promote the commercialisation of clean fuel in Australia.

Then there’s the issue of community expectations on aviation. There was large and evident distress in the UK over the economic consequences of the recent aviation shutdown. But that hasn’t stopped the incoming government from harsh taxes and charges on air travel, driven by budget issues but justified on environmental grounds. Aviation is under pressure to play its part in reducing carbon emissions.

So there’s a lot for us all to do.

I spoke last year at Safe Skies about the opportunity and the challenge before us to create the infrastructure of the sky – to make our skies the safest, most efficient and environmentally sustainable on the planet.

And good progress has been achieved. At Qantas we have organised ourselves more effectively to identify and communicate how we see the new air traffic management infrastructure unfold. We have put a group of senior executives in charge of the process. So I hope we are positioning ourselves to be really effective partners in the change process. We want to hear from you if we can do more.

We are actively engaged in the ASTRA (the Australian Strategic Planning Group) process which remains a vital source of expert advice. And we very much appreciate the leadership and collaboration of the key central agencies: AirServices Australia, of course, CASA, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and the Department of Defence. And of course, the discussions you have just held today will also be a very important contribution.

At Qantas we stand ready and willing to work with all the interested parties, including other airlines, governments, airport operators, manufacturers, general aviation, community groups and other stakeholders.

So let’s keep moving. We don’t underestimate the size of the task. As we proceed, we are going to have to muster the persuasive energy, the political will, the necessary upfront capital, and all our collaborative skills. Most of all we must set our sights clearly on an air traffic management system of the future – one that includes all traffic in any airspace, that integrates the infrastructure, people, procedures and technologies, and that delivers us safety, efficiency and environmental excellence that puts us in front of the world.

So what are the immediate priorities?

At Qantas our view is that there are two related and immediate tasks that, once completed, will lay a platform for the future of navigation and surveillance in Australia – that is, the foundations of the infrastructure of the sky.

We need to move the industry to primary-means satellite navigation for all aircraft using instrument flight rules if we are to take advantage of satellite navigation’s full potential.

And we need to make the full transition to ADS-B (or automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast). AirServices Australia has already put Australia in a leading position with nationwide ADS-B coverage- a feat no other country has yet achieved. We need to capitalise on that effort.

With these twin achievements, we know that our industry will be able to deliver better safety through greater visibility of aircraft as they track
through the sky. More efficient flight paths can cut travel time, reduce congestion and delay and make life better for flying passengers. Fuel burn will be lower and noise emissions can be reduced for better environmental outcomes.

And the outlay to achieve this great outcome can be substantially – if not totally – offset by savings in capital and operational expenditure on redundant systems – the elimination of en route radar and the significant reduction in radio beacons. Hundreds of millions of dollars of savings are on the table.

The challenge is not so much whether we should embrace the new technologies. The challenge is to accept that this is the future, plan for it, budget for it, and make the necessary adjustments.

A third priority must be to look at the classification of airspace. The current system isn’t defensible over the long term. The fact is that regional and remote Australia aren’t so remote anymore. Our QantasLink business is growing, and we are sending highly equipped aircraft into airports in some of this continent’s more sparsely populated corners. The mining boom is underway, and this trend will continue. Safety considerations and efficiency benefits dictate that we must be ready to reclassify air space. I know this is a challenge and potentially a cost for old time aircraft and operators but it would be a failure of leadership to let the past dictate the future.

So for once the analogy is appropriate – this is the beginning of a journey. And we need a map to get our destination.

Here are some principles which I think are important:

  1. Know what our destination is. We need a fundamental agreement that what we are aiming for is an ATM of the future, not a set of tiny iterations on the past. We need to create a system that rewards the highest common denominator in terms of technologies, peoples and processes, not default to the lowest common denominator in terms of technology, or the loudest voice of opposition. That’s the only way we can honour our duty to the highest safety, efficiency and environmental standards in Australian aviation.
  2. We need to understand the costs and cost benefits of what we propose. Let’s quantify costs fully and carefully, recognising that costs and benefits may be shared among many stakeholders. Let’s do the math. Once we do the sums, the logic will be clear.
  3. We need a timetable – so that everyone from the smallest general aviation operator to aircraft manufacturers and airports know what’s coming down the pipeline. And it needs to be ambitious. I would hate to be sitting in this audience in ten years time hearing my successor plead for modernisation of the air transport system. One clear date that springs to mind – planned capex on radar equipment will need to begin in 2015, with a decision on possible tenders in the next six months.
  4. And we need to be advocates, educators and communicators. We need community support if we are to change to a modern air transport system, and right now we face doubt and scepticism. When the railways were introduced, communities were opposed. When cars were introduced, many were doubtful. We should not be afraid to confront the doubts and explain the massive benefits of modern air traffic systems to the Australian community. They will deliver greater safety. They will deliver greater fuel efficiency. They will be kinder to the environment.

To conclude. By 2020 it will be a new world, and sustainability will stop being a buzz word and instead be a way of life. I hope that Australia will be at the forefront of that new world, not dragging its feet to catch up.
Achievement of our goals is going to require leadership at all levels. We have the leaders – many of them here tonight. We have the smarts and the skills. We have a legacy of achievement in aviation.

And here in this great memorial to our war time experience, we have a reminder of our duties in peacetime. Let’s see how well we measure up.