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RAAF Base Fairbairn
11th May 1998

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

Dr John Zillman, the Director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and as I'm always very proud as an Australian to add, President of the World Meteorological Organisation, to my Senate colleague but no relation, Senator Sandy Macdonald, to Colin Cooks and Tony Wills from SENCON Industries and Greg Holland from the Bureau of Meteorology and other very distinguished guests in the audience.

Two months ago I informed my colleagues in the Senate about an exciting event that had taken place in the skies off the coast of Port Headland in Western Australia - namely the operational trials of this robotic aircraft known as the Aerosonde.

Today I am pleased to be able to not only confirm the success of those trials but to let you know that in recent weeks other successful trials have been conducted in Canada and as we speak at this very moment, an Aerosonde is flying in the South China Sea gathering data in an important research project on the Asian Monsoon.

As a North Queenslander living with cyclones as Dr Zillman has mentioned, I'm personally enraptured by the possibilities of this aircraft.

This small pilotless aircraft with its 3 metre span, its distinctive inverted V tail structure made of carbon fibre and kevlar, is powered by a 20cc engine, and in the next couple of years it will be able to perhaps fly 45,000 feet over a cyclone and descend into the relatively calm eye of the cyclone. For those of you who saw the movie I say - Twister and Helen Hunt - eat your heart out!

The aircraft presently gets to about 16,000 feet and can fly for thirty hours and the elegant engineering squeezes over five hundred kilometres from a litre of fuel. And how is that for environmental efficiency.

Other speakers who follow me today will tell you more about this remarkable aircraft and its technical capabilities so I am going to limit my remarks to just two other aspects of the project.

The first is the private sector - public sector partnership that resulted in getting the Aerosonde to its present stage of development.

The second is the potential of the Aerosonde in what it offers, both nationally and internationally, in environmental monitoring in general, and meteorological monitoring in particular. I suspect that there are some of you in the audience who might see valuable applications for the technology in other fields.

To me however, the most satisfying aspect of this innovative environmental monitoring concept is that it is being driven by Australians.

The Aerosonde is being developed by the Melbourne company, Sencon Environmental Systems, in collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology and the US-based Insitu Group. Whilst the Aerosonde has been their most recent focus for collaboration, the Bureau and SENCON have worked together to develop, promote and sell environmental technologies for more than a decade.

That collaboration is commendable in several respects :

But the potential for this technology goes well beyond Australia.

The project has been endorsed by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction.

There is more than 30 aircraft already sold to the US and Taiwan and substantial interest in the acquisition of these aircraft has been shown from almost all parts of the globe.

In recent months SENCON and the Bureau have developed a new collaborative commercial arrangement which will result in the further investment by SENCON of some $11 million for the development of observing and forecasting technologies in Australia. Of this amount $4.5 million will be directly accessible to the Bureau to accelerate relevant systems development projects and to improve service provision.

This project involves a licensing agreement which ensures that the Bureau retains ownership of intellectual property but allows SENCON to commercially exploit its technologies.

The Government supports and encourages the Bureau's involvement in this mutually beneficial partnership.

In addition to the $4.5 million capital payment, the Bureau will receive an income from commercialisation of the systems.

This income will enable the accelerated development of the Bureau's systems and projects as well as providing the resources to bring forward new projects which have been planned.

This will include not only the ongoing development of the Aerosonde but will also support the development of new wind and temperature profile measuring systems known as 'Doppler Profilers', new lightning detection systems; the further development of integrated computer-based forecasting systems.

The Doppler-Profiler System (DPS) which will have the capacity to measure wind and temperature in the lowest few kilometres of the atmosphere with very high spatial and temporal resolution, has numerous applications, including:

The Advanced Lightning Detection System (ALDS) and the Australian Integrated Forecasting System (AIFS) will offer major improvements in short-term forecasting and warning outputs.

AIFS, which incidentally and again I say with some pride for the Bureau, won the Silver Medal at the recent Government Technology Productivity Awards, and this will be the backbone of the Bureau's forecasting services for the Sydney Olympics. I am sure and I certainly hope that the AIFS and some of the other developments that I have referred to today, will be showcased to the world at the time of the Sydney Olympics.

Ladies & Gentlemen, my thanks go to those who've been involved in organising today's events, the RAAF for allowing us the use of their facilities, to Mr Greg Tyrrell, the Manager of the Aerosonde Project at SENCON, who I understand has been responsible for coordinating most of the logistics and also I should mention by Senior Adviser, Clare Richards who's done a lot of work in putting today together.

Before I hand over to Mr Tony Wills, the General Manager of SENCON Environmental Systems and to Dr Greg Holland, the Senior Principle Research Scientist to the Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, both of whom will provide you with more technical information about the Aerosonde, I do want to congratulate both of them, and the organisations they represent, for the excellence of the endeavour that's got the Aerosonde to this stage of its development; and to say how personally delighted and how delighted the Government is with the new venture. The new venture which will accelerate the future development of the Aerosonde, and other monitoring and forecasting systems, for both national and overseas markets.

Congratulations to you both and congratulations to the Organisations you represent. It's a tremendous project, a very exciting one and one that will again put Australia to the fore in this particular field of endeavour.

Now could I call upon Tony Wills to take the lessons further.

Commonwealth of Australia