What next for regulatory reform? – Opinion

The Aviation Safety Regulation Reform (ASRR) Panel delivered its report and recommendations on time at the end of some four months of exhaustive and far-reaching consultation with all aviation sectors. The Minister presented the Panel’s work for public review promptly, providing another 30 days for further comment, which expired on Monday, June 30.

What happens next, and in what sequence, is much less clear.

Plainly even if every one of the ASRR Panel’s 37 recommendations were to be adopted without amendment, (an obviously unlikely scenario), the recommendations would still need to be transformed into a plan of action that covers the enormous range of regulatory matters that were addressed in the ASRR process. These include hundreds of items of change, many of them interactive, and most probably calling for change in the administrative, airworthiness, enforcement, flight operations, legal, licensing, medical, recruitment/training, and other areas – all to tight timetables to keep the ball rolling.

Of all the industry disquiet expressed in submissions to the Panel, by far the most frequent and prominent has been the breakdown of the mutual trust and respect that once existed between the regulator and industry.

This situation, unmentioned in previous studies and reports, is observed and discussed with examples in almost all the published submissions, and is further highlighted by the 31% of submitters who requested confidentiality.

It becomes obvious therefore that there are people within the national aviation authority as it stands who are un-equipped and unwilling to be part of essential restructure, and that the whole task will have to be assigned to a newly-formed team, under a newly-appointed director reporting to a newly formed board.

The critical trust deficiency was mentioned only once in the ASRR’s recommendations at item 14, but was expanded on at several points in the Panel’s summary of its deliberations. The recommendation is:

14.   The Civil Aviation Safety Authority changes its regulatory philosophy and, together with industry, builds an effective collaborative relationship on a foundation of mutual understanding and respect.

ProAviation suggests that if this recommendation were effectively implemented, the identified problems would begin to disappear almost immediately, albeit it with a golden handshake in some undeserving cases.

It is notable that the wording of the recommendation directly links changes in CASA’s “regulatory philosophy” with the re-building of “an effective collaborative relationship on a foundation of mutual understanding and respect.” Given that the collapse of those values is at the root of virtually all the problems the Panel identified, the corollary is that if CASA does not change its regulatory philosophy, there can be no prospect of rebuilding trust and understanding.

And there could therefore be no prospect of reform. Simple as that!

It needs also to be noted that although the Panel wisely chose not to put forward prescriptive solutions, its general analysis offered ample guidance on the nature and scale of the problems that the incoming board and CEO need to fix. The following extracts are just examples from the Panel’s deliberations that raise the issue of trust and discuss credible remedies:

  • Due to the present adversarial relationship between industry and CASA, Australia lacks the degree of trust required to achieve this important aim [collaborative relationships]. Sharing safety data is a fundamental principle of good safety management.”
  • “The Panel concludes that CASA and industry need to build an effective collaborative relationship on a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Therefore, CASA needs to set  a new strategic direction.”
  • “Public sector organisationsasked act in a way that maintains the trust placed in the organisation by the government  and in such a way that the public interest is maintained or improved over time.”
  • While CASA appears to be trusted by many in government,the industry’s trust in CASA is failing, compromising CASA’s Stewardship,and industry perceives Casas Accountability as being compromised.” [ASRR’s highlighting]
  • Concerns over data flows will continue to be an issue whenever there is a breakdown of trust between industry and CASA.”
  • “Although the rationale for ‘firmness’in regulatory oversight is understood, and clearly has a place, the industry’s assessment is that CASA takes an overly aggressive position, which is having an overriding and consuming influence over the aviation community and damaging trust.

Of course reform is still several giant steps away, because it can only work when the new regulator’s new board and new management all accept that there exist obstructions that will take a cathartic change of corporate mindset to remove. The retraining or removal of the obstructionists will also be vital and should not be underestimated, because the philosophies that created the present system are still extant.

However the potential rewards speak for themselves. For a start, the 20 year farce of faux regulatory reform should be replaced by a rule set that delivers what was claimed for the original RRP project. That would be accompanied by genuine and effective industry consultation along lines recommended by the Panel, realistic consultation timelines, and (hopefully) the input and guidance of a suitably qualified body such as the Australian Law Reform Commission, whose objective (stated on its website) is to Make recommendations for law reform that:

  • “bring the law into line with current conditions and needs;
  • “remove defects in the law;
  • “simplify the law;
  • “adopt new law more effective methods for administering the law and dispensing justice, and
  • “provide improved access to Justice.

“When conducting an enquiry, the ALRC also monitors overseas legal systems to ensure Australia compares favourably with international best practice.”

Those objectives seemed to be tailor-made for Australia’s current aviation regulatory system.

At an early point, as when any major conflict seems to be drawing to a close, it may be necessary to declare a form of “ceasefire” to ensure that the processes of reform are not further clouded by hyperactive over-regulation on the part of individuals or groups. We have in fact already heard reports of harassment that seem to suggest the reopening of old and far from fully healed wounds, and some recent “initiatives” in the medical and airworthiness areas also appear to suggest a scorched earth philosophy. Surely any new regulatory interpretations or enforcement activity should receive close scrutiny for non-compliance with published procedures, due diligence, procedural fairness and the rule of law.

An early priority must be LAME and pilot licensing issues, which will be familiar to anyone who has been following the ASRR dialogue. These reach into the career prospects of both groups, and must be unravelled and resolved.

Also there’s considerable disparity between contributors to the ASRR on key specific issues, much of which is not fully resolved by the Panel’s recommendations, and needs early resolution. A good example (but far from the only one) is the question of whether two-tier or three-tier regulation represents the more effective model, and there are credible and well-regarded supporters for both scenarios.

At best, the new board and executive would have as a starting point at least two navigation aids:

First, their own copy of the ASRR Panel’s report and access to all the submissions to the ASRR, will help identify and understand most of the problems they are responsible for solving along with many of the solutions. This is important because it is probable that implementation of many of the Panels recommendations are likely to require amendments to the Civil Aviation Act;

Second, Bruce Byron’s two directives: 16/2004 – Development of Regulations and the Regulatory Framework, and 17/2004 – Regulatory Advisory Panels – set out an optimal prescription for getting the regulatory review process back on track. However the two directives were later replaced by Directive 1 of 2007 which consolidated them while also requiring risk justification of all regulations and benefit justifications of all regulations.

With the departure of the present CEO imminent, surely it would be timely now for the Minister to name without further delay the new CASA board and also the new CEO, who will face a daunting challenge on Monday September 1.

Meanwhile, it’s an educational experience, as well as being a guide to the challenges faced by an incoming administration, to re-read CASA’s own reporting of announcements by (then) responsible Minister John Anderson on the new way forward in 2002 as the Minister saw it.

 Article from Flight Safety Australia November-December 2002

Far Reaching reforms to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) announced on 18 November will strengthen its accountability, improve consultation with industry and temper its ability to act as “judge, jury and executioner,” while maintaining its powers to take appropriate safety action.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson, said aviation safety and compliance will be improved in the capital cities and regional areas under the reforms.

The reforms, proposed to come into effect from 1 July 2003, include:

  • The CASA Board will be abolished and the Director of Aviation Safety will be designated as the Chief Executive Officer.
  • The Minister will be given powers to set policy directions and performance standards for CASA, but will remain at arm’s length from day to day safety regulatory decisions.
  • The Minister will also be given powers to establish consultation mechanisms for industry and stakeholders.
  • Measures will be introduced to reform CASA’s enforcement processes, including granting a stay of suspension and cancellation decisions not involving an immediate risk to air safety, and the introduction of a demerit points system for minor breaches of the regulations.
  • An air standards advisory body will be formally established to complete the reform of the aviation safety regulations.

“The review of the structure and reporting arrangements for CASA was a key element of the aviation reform agenda that we announced in February this year,” Mr Anderson said.

“I am pleased the Government has agreed to a series of bold measures ensuring CASA remains a robust, independent safety regulator but at the same time sees its accountability to Government and standing with industry strengthened.

“Under the new enforcement regime, CASA will retain the power to ground an operator where there is an imminent risk to safety but it will be required to have its decision confirmed by the Federal Court after five days.

Where a decision is taken to vary, suspend or cancel an aviation approval and a review is sought, an automatic stay of the decision will be granted.

“This will mean that no operator will be put out of business as they wait for a court or tribunal to determine whether CASA acted appropriately. At the same time, aviation safety standards will be maintained by giving CASA the express power to immediately suspend an aviation permission, such as an Air Operators’ Certificate, where there is an imminent safety risk.

“The formal establishment of an air standards advisory body will build on the outstanding work that Mr Bruce Byron has done in making sure that the views of the industry are taken into account when new aviation safety regulations are made. This body will play an integral part in the completion of the regulatory reform program, providing a strong and effective line of communication between CASA and the aviation industry. “Australia has an enviable record when it comes to aviation safety and this is due, in part, to a culture that recognises the need for safety awareness. “These reforms will only improve and strengthen CASA’s ability to regulate our skies effectively and boost the travelling public’s faith in our aviation industry.” Mr Anderson extended his gratitude to CASA’s Chairman, Ted Anson, for completing the CASA review, and also to the other board members for the service they have given.

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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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