Coalition’s aviation policies revealed

The Coalition has launched a detailed aviation policy that spells out credible remedies for many of the industry’s prime barriers to investment, innovation, and aviation sector competition, and in some cases to simple survival.

The document foreshadows a major external review of Australian aviation safety and regulation, to be undertaken by “a qualified, eminent and experienced member of the international aviation community” whom it has not yet identified.The Coalition has given the proposed review a broad terms of reference that will include an investigation of:

  • the structures and processes of all agencies involved in aviation safety, which includes Airservices Australia ATSB, CASA and Department of infrastructure;
  • the relationship and interaction of those agencies with each other, as well as with the Department;
  • the outcomes and direction of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s regulatory review process [now in its 22nd year depending on where you start counting];
  • the state of aviation safety regulations when benchmarked against comparable overseas jurisdictions; and
  • any other relevant matters.

“The Senate committee’s enquiry also raised questions about the ability of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to function effectively as Australia’s no-blame transport safety investigator.

“Budgetary concerns and striving for continual efficiency gains should not be at the expense of the quality of investigations. The Coalition’s solution will seek to establish suitable mechanisms by which the Chief Commissioner of the ATSB can request additional funding on an as required basis to ensure the high standard of investigations is maintained.

“We support best practice in aviation safety. We’ve always done so”, says the Coalition announcement. “However, we are increasingly concerned by feedback from the aviation industry that aviation safety regulations are being inappropriately applied, are not consistent with international standards, and are focused on detailed bureaucratic requirements rather than ensuring safe outcomes and practices.

“The findings and recommendations of the enquiry undertaken by the Senate rural and regional affairs and Transport Committee into Aviation Accident Investigations added further weight to the industry’s concerns.”

Several coalition senators who participated in the enquiry have already denounced government inaction on the committee’s 26 wide-ranging recommendations, many of which specifically address deficiencies such as a lack of technical expertise in ATSB management, failure to retrieve the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, deficiencies in CASA’s auditing oversight, and policies under which medical retrieval operations are conducted as “aerial work” rather than non-RPT passenger carrying operations.

The committee also recommended that the Pel-Air investigation “be re-opened by the ATSB with a focus on organisational, oversight and broader systemic issues.”

Out with the carbon tax

“Since 1 July 2012, labour has subjected the aviation industry to the carbon tax by increasing the fuel excise on aviation fuels.

“This has added more than $100 million per year to Qantas’s costs, $45 million to Virgin Australia’s costs and around $50 million to our regional carriers, not to mention the impact on agricultural aviation, general aviation, essential firebombing services and the flow-an impact to industries like tourism.

Minister/industry consultation

The Coalition says it would establish a formal Aviation Industry Consultative Council, which would meet on a regular basis with the Minister to discuss matters of concern to the broader aviation industry and ensure that its views have a forum for discussion and development.

“The coalition is concerned that reports from the industry that it does not have a voice at the heart of government. We will seek to develop an open an ongoing dialogue with industry.”

Structural reform for CASA

The Coalition will seek to enhance CASA’s abilities to function as Australia’s key aviation safety regulator.

a.         Strategic direction

 Following the review it has announced, the Coalition says it would issue CASA with a new statement of strategic direction as allowed under section 12A of the Civil Aviation Act 1988.

 “This strategic direction will reinforce safety as CASA’s primary responsibility, but will also set out:

  •  the leadership role of the board in determining the strategic direction of CASA;
  • a renewed focus on meaningful industry consultation and engagement when regulatory reforms are being developed and implemented as required by section 16 of the Civil Aviation Act 1988;
  • an emphasis on consistency of processes and outcomes when interpreting often complex and prescriptive regulations; and
  • a desire for a timely and streamlined review process to reinforce consistent outcomes and incorporate industry feedback into the future decision-making processes.

 b.         CASA

 “CASA’s  board has been repeatedly established, abandoned and re-established again. While boards and other agencies have been successful in setting and implementing the strategic direction of their agency, CASA’s  structure has been the subject of criticism. The Coalition will maintain the CASA  structure, but will expand the boardfrom 4 to 6 members, including some with aviation skills and experience.”

 c.                   Industry Complaints Commissioner

 The Coalition says it is willing to take up the challenge of ensuring a reliable, robust and transparent complaints process that is managed in a timely manner, and has taken note of industry disappointment with CASA’s performance to date in the role:

 “The Industry Complaints Commissioner is responsible for investigating complaints about CASA personnel and delegates or authorised persons, in a reasonable time. There have been many objections raised about the length of time taken to resolve complaints and the outcome of investigations.

 “The coalition will require the Industry Complaints Commissioner to provide a quarterly report to the Drector of Aviation Safety, including a summary of their activities, covering the number of complaints received, the timeframe in which they were addressed, and recommendations on improvements to the structures or consultation processes that could be made to address systemic concerns, as appropriate.

 “They  will be asked to consider mandating standard response times for investigations as well as directing additional resources from within CASA to the Industry Complaints Commissioner should it be required.”

 The policy document also details the coalition’s position on:

  • focus on the better utilisation of Australian airspace, including tasking Airservices Australia with fast-tracking technological and navigational improvements at airports and pursuing methods to decrease aircraft noise for communities;
  • support for regional aviation;
  • recognising the importance of Australian airports to the economy, from major gateway airports and small regional airports, to those that support flight training and general aviation;
  • weather information for regional aerodromes,
  • finality on Sydney’s second airport;
  • encouragement of aviation manufacturing;
  • revitalisation of the General Aviation Action Agenda and establish a regular dialogue with the general aviation sector to address industry issues;
  • promotion of aviation market liberalisation while recognising the need to protect the national interest;
  • enhancement of aviation skills, training and development by undertaking a study into skills shortages in the broader aviation industry; and
  • ensuring that aviation security measures are risk based and implemented in a practical and common sense way.
  • “Over the past six years Labor’s approach to aviation policy has seen cost after cost added to the bottom lines of airlines and airports, pilots and passengers.

 “Labor has introduced the carbon tax, increased red tape, raised the passenger movement charge and abolished the en route rebate scheme for small regional airlines.

 “The Coalition recognises that our aviation sector is a vital part of the economy. It employs in excess of 100,000 people and contributes an estimated $17.3 billion to the Australian economy. The Coalition’s Policy for Aviation will invest $6 million to boost the productivity, safety and competitiveness of our aviation sector.”

The Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) welcomes the Coalition’s aviation policy release, says CEO Paul Tyrrell:

“They are a good start and show that the Coalition has at least been listening to industry concerns, concerns that have been shared with the Shadow Minister over a number of years.”

RAAA Chairman Jeff Boyd says: “The high level review of all the government aviation agencies is supported. The new policies are light on funding but we are willing to work with any incoming government to help them trim the bloated bureaucracies, encourage further efficiencies and have the industry climbing again.

”The return of a subsidy scheme for enroute charges to encourage the survival of marginal routes is welcomed by the regional aviation industry. It is $2.5 less than an earlier scheme but better than nothing, which has been the case since July 2012.

“Australia sits on the southern edge of the world’s fastest growing aviation market. With the right government policy settings Australian aviation could again be a major aviation industry player, domestically and internationally. This will require a strong industry/government partnership and a real commitment to listen and work together.”

 The Australian Aviation Associations Forum (TAAAF) believes Warren Truss is
serious about these initiatives, says forum chairman Chris Manning:

“The Coalition’s latest efforts seem to reflect what the industry is asking for; this
is a positive development and it’s always good to see something positive in
aviation. They are steps in the right direction. The industry has never been more united and is looking forward to working with the incoming Government.”

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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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