Warren Entsch challenges CASA

Warren Entsch, MLA for Leichardt and Chief Opposition Whip, delivered a fiery denunciation during last night’s adjournment debate, of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s treatment of Barrier Aviation. Warren’s electorate covers a large patch of Barrier’s operating area, and as a long-standing MP and frequent flier throughout Cape York and the Gulf Country, he’s watched these processes for many years with growing concern.

Other parliamentarians to whom ProAviation has spoken share his concerns, and Mr Entsch’s calls for an enquiry are likely to be echoed in many other electorates. Our readers have been providing us with suggested inclusions in a terms of reference, which we’ll be passing on at an appropriate time.

Here’s Mr Entsch’s speech in full:

I rise tonight to outline a very serious issue —the seemingly corrupt and anti-commercial conduct of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority office in Cairns, which appears to hide in the shadows and cites ‘safety’ as a reason to advance personal vendettas against local aviation operators. Numerous operators in Cairns have been subjected to incompetence, threats and demands from individuals who make decisions outside of CASA’s authority. Barrier Aviation is the most recent victim, but I know of at least three other operators who have been irreparably damaged by the Gestapo tactics of a few individuals, namely, Phil Lister, Mark Ayrey and Gerard Campbell, and with the Director of CASA himself turning a blind eye.

The complaints include: totally incorrect interpretations of regulations, requiring operators to jump through unnecessary hoops at the inspectors’ commands; the inexperience of inspectors, not knowing how to interpret regulations or legislation; inspectors entering aircraft unauthorised and unsupervised and interfering with master control switches; inspectors threatening regulatory action if operators do not do as they are told even when the inspectors are wrong; formal complaints being buried and never responded to.

It is common knowledge within the aviation industry that, if CASA want you shut down, they simply bury you with regulations and wear you down with costs until you go broke. In Cairns the personal vendetta against David Kilin, an industry stalwart of almost 40 years, has led to the closure of his life’s work.

It started back in 2011 when a complaint was made by Barrier to the Industry Complaints Commissioner. This complaint implicated a number of individuals within CASA Cairns who had displayed incompetent, unethical and irresponsible conduct towards Barrier. In a blatant conflict of interest, the main subject of the complaint, Mr Phil Lister, remained as an inspector of Barrier Aviation and associated companies and, incredibly, received a promotion. Despite requests, CASA’s office refused to assign Barrier to another CASA office. Meanwhile, the complaint was never responded to and, in retaliation, CASA spent almost 18 months setting Barrier Aviation up. This included a complaint that was lodged against Barrier by a disgruntled ex-employee, who then fled back to his home country of New Zealand, resulting in the cancellation of Barrier’s AOC.

Barrier has serious concerns with CASA Cairns’s procedures, including the total lack of collaboration between CASA and the industry, unilateral decision-making, reversal of the onus of proof and the lack of procedural fairness and rights of appeal. At no time did CASA try to work with the operator to address their concerns. It was simply a witch-hunt to seek revenge on David Kilin. CASA has lied about evidence and padded their investigation to make Barrier into an unsafe operator despite Barrier previously excelling in this area.

What is also unbelievable is the abuse of process. Six months after Barrier was forced to shut its doors, they still have not been able to test a single allegation in court—and at the cost of $28,000 per day in lost revenue. And to top it off, CASA has sent press release after press release with statements that have never been tested.

Around 50 people have lost their jobs, investors have lost millions of dollars, and David Kilin has lost his life’s work. And even now, CASA is not content with just burying Barrier, they want to dance on the grave as well. I was disgusted to learn that CASA Cairns has been speaking to potential purchasers of Barrier aircraft, threatening that they will not approve their airworthiness.

Since Barrier’s very public demise, I have had numerous calls from right across the country from people telling me that CASA Cairns has a history of destroying small businesses. The most troubling thing is that, while these callers are keen to express a huge amount of sympathy for Barrier, they are too scared to speak publicly. This industry urgently needs an independent body and rights mechanisms to hold CASA Cairns accountable for their own inadequacies and conduct. After 14 September, I will be calling for a full inquiry. I will not let Barrier be destroyed without holding those individuals who are directly responsible for this sordid business accountable for their actions.

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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."

One thought on “Warren Entsch challenges CASA

  1. PAIN_Net

    Dear Sir.
    We applaud the speech made by the Hon. Warren Entsch in the adjournment debate on June 5, 2013 calling for an inquiry into the atrocious behaviour of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) at Cairns, based on the matter of Barrier Aviation.
    As he has correctly observed, there are many who have legitimate complaint with CASA officers and the imposed ‘culture of fear’ which has an obscene, detrimental effect on investor confidence, industry growth and the ability of people working in industry to be secure in their chosen business or employment.
    We suggest that any inquiry made be expanded beyond the Cairns region to include other CASA offices of which many complaints are made anecdotally, but not formally registered for fear of administrative retribution. We believe some of your parliamentary colleagues would have similar issues to share with you.
    In part, the ‘silence’ is due to the CASA examining complaints made against CASA, a lack of protection from punitive retribution through “administrative decisions” and the prohibitive cost to individuals and small companies of seeking independent judicial rulings.
    It is quite clear to those in the industry who have observed these issues over many years, that these events are neither isolated nor random acts by malicious individuals; but those of a co-ordinated “culture” that has grown up within the CASA organisation and represented in virtually all areas of activity; but particularly in the airworthiness, flight operations, investigative and legal departments. The observed conduct produces identifiable, repetitive patterns of behaviour, some of which suggest deficiencies in the psychological fitness of some to perform their assigned tasks. This in turn begs questions regarding the quality of the organisation’s recruiting, selection, training and supervision processes.
    It is notable that this “culture” has survived at least five successive chief executive officers, notwithstanding Mr Bruce Byron’s strenuous (and partly successful) efforts to diminish this influence. This makes an important point, the necessity for identifying and removing those who are opposed to genuine reform. Even with the imminent contract expiry of the present CEO we confidently predict that any ‘in house’ reshuffle at existing executive level would not result in a positive outcome.
    Given adequate terms of reference and an effective independent forum, the proposed inquiry would clearly define the last years of fear, frustration and anger with an incompetent, embarrassing, corrupt regulatory system and the people who administer that system It is time this system was publicly exposed. Momentum from the Senate Inquiry into ATSB and CASA management of the Pel Air ditching has revealed only a relatively small example of one of many calumnies inflicted on an industry which seeks nothing more than to be, legally and freely, part of Australia’s future.
    Yours faithfully.
    The editors.

    Professional Aviators Investigative Network (PAIN) describes itself as “a loosely organised, informal, confidential network which has formed over a number of years. There are approximately 1000 associates of the network.” Many members, in one form or another may be properly considered expert witnesses. (Ed)

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