Navy airborne survey for PNG

This article has photo gallery Published on Mr James McPherson (author)

Location(s): Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Topic(s): Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS)

Commanding Officer LCDR Mark Matthews with POHSM Russell Hinze and Mr Nick Pion (National Maritime Safety Authority) prior to departing for a survey sortie. (photo: Unknown)
Commanding Officer LCDR Mark Matthews with POHSM Russell Hinze and Mr Nick Pion (National Maritime Safety Authority) prior to departing for a survey sortie.

The Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight recently commenced a six week deployment to Papua New Guinea, with the Dash 8-200 aircraft operating from Port Moresby whilst deployed.

Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Mark Matthews, said the survey would provide improved data that will be used to update the existing nautical charts used by all vessels.

In particular the survey would focus on regions on poorly surveyed coastal waters east of Port Moresby. This work will help to identify passages that can be used by coastal vessels to access coastal communities, and to shelter from the south-east trade winds that dominate the local weather for much of the year.

The priority area was identified by the National Maritime Safety Authority of Papua New Guinea; with Nick Pion of the Authority accompanying the Commanding Officer on a survey flight over this area to gain a better appreciation of the technology, and to provide some local insight of the survey area.

“The Royal Australian Navy has responsibility for charting approximately one-eighth of the world’s surface,” Lieutenant Commander Matthews said.

“The charts that are updated from the data captured by LADS will ensure safer navigation and greater environmental protection by reducing the risk of a marine accident.”

The Navy team will undertake five sorties each week whilst deployed. The missions will see the aircraft fly at around 500 metres in lines generally parallel to the coast. They may also fly over coastal areas when surveying shallow coastal areas.

“The unit is unique to any Navy in the world. The system was developed in Australia and uses a scanning laser mounted in the aircraft to collect hydrographic survey data and depth information,” Lieutenant Commander Matthews said.

“The Flight is particularly suited to coastal and dangerous reef areas where it would be less safe for our survey ships to operate.

“The Flight has spent much of its operational life in the Great Barrier and the Coral Sea, but is now expanding its operations.

“This means we can bring the safety and efficiency of an airborne system to large and complex areas of the ocean.”

The LADS Flight is based in Cairns and can survey more than 40 square km per hour and measure depths of up to 80 metres in good conditions.

“This is an area equivalent to the reach of six survey ships,” Lieutenant Commander Matthews said.

The LADS Flight operates a modified Dash 8 aircraft fitted with a laser system to measure the seafloor depths in coastal waters.

More information on the LADS flight is available at: