New search ordered for missing CASA documents

The office of the Australian Information Commissioner has served notice on CASA under s 54V of the FOI (Freedom of Information) Act, requiring the regulator to re-conduct a previously requested search for documents, and specifying that it “fully document that search.”

The FOI request had been lodged by Mr Shane Urquhart, whose daughter Sally died in the crash of a TransAir Metro 23 at Lockhart River in May 2005. He has been a passionate critic of CASA’s oversight of the operator before the crash, and of its subsequent conduct during the ATSB investigation and the Coroner’s inquest.

OAIC wrote to CASA on 27 February 2013 seeking further details of its search for the documents, which the aviation regulator had said it was unable to find. CASA provided a response on 14 March 2013 which OAIC says did not satisfactorily explain why it was unable to locate the documents. OAIC then conducted further enquiries with CASA in late March. CASA’s response to this was still insufficient to show that the documents Mr Urquhart sought did not exist or could not be found.

Mr Urquhart had applied under FOI for 38 specified documents related to approvals of variations and amendments and additions to TransAir’s air operator certificate. “There may have been some others; the ones I received were quite routine and not remarkable,” he said.

“The issue is that the actual documents we want to see are among those listed as ‘unable to be located.’ CASA was prompt in its response to my original request, not charging me and probably hoping I would be happy with what I got and accepting of their excuse for the others. I immediately asked for a review and involved the OAIC. The OAIC has been particularly helpful in assisting me and providing advice.”

Mr Urquhart says his reason for wanting to see the documents is to identify their signatory. ”I believe that it will be very pertinent to the Lockhart River case; i.e. I believe that [a named individual] will be on at least one of the crucial approvals, and that the content will be very relevant to the issues I have been raising. I also know that CASA is very aware of what I am seeking and why. I made the point to both CASA and the OAIC that if the documents cannot be located, it can only follow that they have been lost, stolen, removed or never existed. I do not believe the first or last of those situations.”

CASA’s response is due by 4 June.

A lawyer who is involved in the matter says “I have seen something I have never seen before! What an exceptional turn of events!”

 

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About Paul Phelan

Paul Phelan flew for over 50 years in private, charter, corporate and regional aviation, worked in senior management roles with a major regional airline, and retains his license. In parallel he has been writing for Australian and international aviation journals for well over 20 years on all aspects of aviation including aircraft evaluation, flying, industry affairs, infrastructure, manufacture, regulatory affairs, safety, technologies and training. He has won three separate National Aviation Press Club awards for "best technical aviation story of the year."

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