Transponder Problems Fuel Safety Fears

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Australian officials are investigating ten cases of transponder failure in light aircraft since new airspace regulations went into effect Nov. 27. Transponders are fundamental to maintaining separation under the new rules, which rely less on controller guidance and more on pilots to see and avoid each other. Richard Dudley, a spokesman for Airservices Australia, the government-owned air traffic management company, said some of the transponders were broken but others were switched off or set incorrectly. Critics of the new airspace regs were quick with the I-told-you-so's. "The system is relying on airborne collision avoidance systems functioning 100 percent of the time," said Barry Sargeant, former deputy director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. "That type of defense should be the last resort, [but] it has become a primary tool in avoiding other aircraft." There have been reports of near-collisions in Melbourne and Launceston in recent weeks, further fueling fears by some the system is less safe, but government officials maintain that it is.