Crash investigation response now due next month

Delays in the government’s response to a senate committee report that has dumbfounded senators, the aviation industry and the general public are now expected to be resolved within five weeks. Transport Minister Warren Truss anticipates tabling the government’s response to the committee’s recommendations before the Parliament’s current autumn sittings close on Thursday March 27.

A spokesman for Minister Truss has told ProAviation the Government’s “detailed and considered response” was now being finalised for its tabling in Parliament.

The ATSB’s report on its investigation of the Pel-Air ditching  at Norfolk Island in November 2009 was published in August 2012, generating furious debate and the perception that investigators had ignored critical systemic issues surrounding the carrier’s flight operations and operational support systems, as well as questions over CASA’s regulatory oversight of Pel-Air.

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee conducted its “Aviation Accident Investigations Inquiry” between Sept 2012 and May 2013, but the task kept expanding and the committee’s report was finally tabled on June 19, 2013.

The government’s response is now expected to address the 26 detailed safety-critical recommendations.

Among  these were the reopening of the ATSB investigation, the recovery of the ditched medevac Westwind jet’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders, and the question of whether the Australian Federal Police should investigate whether breaches under S42 of the Transport Safety Investigations Act had occurred.

The Pel-Air ditching has now generated endless inter-related reports but the government’s response to the senate committee’s recommendations was delayed firstly by the pre-election caretaker period,  the election on 7 Sep 2013, and since by inter-departmental manoeuvering that has been closely followed by the increasingly frustrated multi-party Senate committee whose findings were unanimous.

Mr. Truss’s spokesman says: “It is however noted that the Government and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) have already taken actions relevant to the Committee’s report through the establishment of the independent aviation safety regulation review [ASRR] Panel and the independent peer review of the ATSB by its Canadian counterpart the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

The peer-review, announced last August by TSB Chair Wendy Tadros and ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan is “examining the application of investigation processes and methodologies in selected Australian aviation investigations.”

Over four years after the ditching and the dramatic night rescue of its four passengers and two crew, and against the background of the current ASRR Panel’s deep probe into related regulatory issues, there is close industry interest in what solutions the government’s response will identify.

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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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