Forsyth Committee unscrambling the issues

The strength and spread of interest in the government’s Aviation Safety Regulation Review (ASRR) process took almost everybody by surprise. ProAviation had already been made aware of numerous submissions from industry sector groups, trade unions, airports, other government agencies, individuals from pretty well all the aviation sectors we’re aware of, AOC and MRO approval holders and even the medical and legal professions; each commenting on their own regulatory hot spots and in most cases identifying well-considered solutions.

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For an update we contacted Australian industry veteran David Forsyth, who heads up the ASRR Panel. He says the review has now received over 260 submissions and supplementaries, and Panel members have already interviewed over 200 people or groups in the first phase of the team’s in-depth probe into the regulatory environment in which the industry does its business.

“We’ve had a lot of interest which has been really encouraging. Submissions have come from right across the country; quite a lot from the areas we visited around Christmas time when the panel first visited Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane, and spoke to people at the GA airports – Moorabbin, Bankstown, Parafield and Archerfield. At that time we also met with other organisations in those capitals. So when you add them all up, at this point we’ve spoken to probably around 200 people now. The panel is back in Canberra at the moment where we’ve been talking to give them more people. We spent a day in Sydney last week and a day in Melbourne, and we’re splitting up over the weekend. Two of us will be in Perth this week and the other two are going up to Cairns; and we’ll be talking to people in both those locations too. We obviously don’t have time to see everybody around such a big country, but we wanted to make sure we had two of us up in Cairns and two in Perth and that accounts for this coming week.”

The exploratory work has already helped the Panel identify and classify issues that will help them sharpen their focuses and their priorities.

“Rather than continuing what we’ve been doing with the more general stakeholder meetings, talking about a whole range of things and getting their inputs on all the terms of reference, we’re now starting to concentrate on particular issues. The way we structured those interviews this last week, we spoke to specific people about their issues and to others about their submissions. We’re obviously not going to get to all 260 people who made submissions, but if there’s a particular matter to run down, like pilot medicals for example, then we’ll go and talk specifically to individuals who’ve made submissions, or who are in the business, or have spoken to us about those issues.

“We’re very happy with progress so far. We think all of the issues are on the table now and we don’t think there’ll be too many new matters. The sort of comment we getting from both talking to people and from their submissions when we meet with them, has been very, very good. I didn’t really expect anything else, but I think my UK and Canadian colleagues are both quite impressed by how articulate participants have been, and also how reasonable they’ve been. I do understand that they can get upset about things but they’re not being overly emotional about it, they’re quite factual and clinical, and a lot of them are making really good suggestions as to how things might be done well, so thus far we’ve been very impressed, and it’s been great.”

The Panel expects to be briefing Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss regularly between now and May, and to deliver its draft report in early May; and members are confident that target can be met, says Mr Forsyth.

“We haven’t reached any final conclusions about anything at this point, but obviously we’ve got some ideas. We’ll be briefing the Minister sometime this week and indicating a few things that we’re starting to consider more deeply, and I’m sure we’ll get some comments back. We’ll continue to poke and prod while talking further to industry about their thinking, as well of course as talking to people in government about the same things. So altogether I’m quite happy with progress at this stage.”

With the government response to the Senate committee’s ATSB/CASA investigation report due to be tabled this week, the ASRR Panel is also working closely with the committee and in particular with Senators David Fawcett and Nick Xenophon:

“The whole panel met with them last December when they were first here. We’re meeting with a couple of the Senators again this coming week, and we’ve certainly set up meetings with Senators Fawcett and Xenophon. While my overseas colleagues were back home over Christmas, January and half of February, I and Panel secretary Richard Farmer went around and continued to talk to industry, mostly on specific subjects, continued to ask questions of CASA and the Department and other agencies, and to get answers to questions the other panelists had asked. I’m not saying it’s easy but I’m happy with what’s been achieved in the gathering of preliminary information.”

While he’s obviously unable to talk about specific issues at this point, Mr Forsyth observes:

“This industry rarely agrees on anything but they’re certainly agreed on a couple of things this time which is good. Some of the issues of course are sort of ‘low-hanging fruit,’ and there are some things that we’ll be able to reach a conclusion on quicker than others. Those are much easier to deal with than the ones where the industry isn’t in accord but on most other issues it has a reasonably consistent view.

“One of the hardest things to deal with is the regulatory reform program, because although the industry is almost unanimous that it’s a dog’s breakfast, they’re not united on what the solution is, and that makes it the main area where there are significantly different views across the industry. They are not agreed on the solution to the regulatory reform program and there are quite a range of differences of opinion. Some like the New Zealand model, some favour the US FARs, some people like the EASA, some people say we should just live with what we’ve got. Some say the whole thing should be chucked out and rewritten, and some think it only requires a very small amount of work. So there are a whole range of views on regulatory reform as I’m sure you’d expect.”

With over 260 contributors of submissions and the hundreds or thousands of industry players directly involved to various degrees, it’s obviously impractical to circulate a draft report to all stakeholders, and Mr Forsyth doesn’t see that happening:

“As far as I know the way the system is going to work is that we’ll talk with the Minister about the draft report and see if there’s anything we’ve missed that he wants us to look at, and give us the resources to do that if we need to. But failing that, we’ll then give him the final report and where it goes after that is up to the Minister. But so far we’re happy with the way we are progressing.

“I think the Minister is being kept well informed and obviously wants do something. I also think it can be fixed. It’s been encouraging, and it seems it just requires a bit of common sense on everybody’s part to work through all the issues. But as you know, it’s become a bit unpleasant out there both for industry and for the government, and usually those relationships can be repaired if you work hard at them.

“So let’s hope we can make some suggestions that will help with that. A lot of people are pinning a lot of hope on the process, and the weight of their expectations is huge!”

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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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