Ed Sims, the Chief Executive of State Owned Enterprise (SOE) Airways Corporation, was interviewed on the business section of Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme in 9 September (2014) and revealed the thinking at the centre of the government’s policy on public ownership.
Airways Corporation provides New Zealand’s Air Traffic Control services but only 40% of the SOE’s work is mandated by law. The rest, including Air Traffic Control at airports could be run by a competitor organisation. Airways is already the only air navigation service provider in the world whose services are already entirely ‘user pays’. It is a profitable business selling air navigation training and technology through arrangements with UAE and with European companies to provide services throughout the Pacific and worldwide. However if a foreign buyer or local entrepreneur came in to undercut Airway’s air traffic control work in New Zealand the government, Sims implied, would do nothing to stop it.
This important service, Sims advised, could be broken up by a regional airport, an international airline or an international contractor like SERCO. (SERCO’s shameful role in Australia’s offshore refugee policy and Britain’s and NZ’s private prisons is already well known). However this does not need to happen to lower the quality of provision. The Airways Corporation is already having to become ‘leaner and meaner’ including cuts to staffing, lowering investment and increasing automation, to make its break-up less likely. In this way the government is custodian of an Airways Corporation whose services will be diminished with a corresponding risk to our safety and Airways ability to pursue overseas opportunities irrespective of the entrance of new players.
There is a problem with a fully user pays model and that is when there is a change in the underlying operating model. That has come about with the arrival of drones. The Airways Corporation now needs to develop rules how drones use airspace including timing, sequencing, safe distances and landing places. How can this be done in an agency reliant entirely funded on commercial funding for one part of the industry – airlines – when another – the drone industry is in its infancy. When extra functions are added, but they fail to be properly funded, there will be stresses and a concern whether an effective job will be carried out. The public at large has an interest in knowing that safe arrangement for drone flights are properly funded as the industry grows.
This laissez faire approach to public safety and a successful public service is just one more way in which New Zealand’s public sphere is being eroded and undercut. Should New Zealanders have to accept the safety and service implications of an Airways Lite model of air safety? Is this the model of public services that New Zealand signed up to when they elected a third term National Government?
There are many ways to undermine public services for a government keen on privatisation. Failing to regulate to support a model that is working well, under funding, white-anting and lowering confidence in public provision are some of the many ways this can happen. You could argue that Airways is effectively facing many of these challenges.
New Zealand’s Public Services – better in public hands.
Airways corporation website http://bit.ly/1x9Y9e6
Radio New Zealand interview with Airways CE Ed Sims http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/businessnews/audio/20150819/air-traffic-controller-considers-airways-%27lite%27-service