Aviation Industry “disappointment” is quickly morphing into outrage over what many stakeholders now see as the government’s lethargic reaction to the “Forsyth Review” which has clearly ex-posed a need for major organisational changes to various aspects of the way the regulator goes about its business.
They are alarmed at the lack of any visible response from Deputy PM and Infrastructure Minister Warren Trusswho although he has acknowledged the Air Safety Regulation Review’s (ASRR) recommendations, does not appear to have set out an urgent plan of action for their adoption. There also hasn’t been any visible response from CASA or Mr Truss’s Department. The Australian Aviation Associations Forum, representing several major and diverse industry groups, has been seeking a meeting with the Minister for several days but without success.
The situation has created a perceived void of policy that is now affecting the futures of individuals, manufacturers, AOC holders and MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) certificate holders alike.
Many believe that the Minister now finds himself isolated in a very awkward situation, with the report he commissioned having been entirely at variance from what he may have anticipated. But they remain adamant that “The ASRR’s report must not be allowed to die.”
The more pivotal of the review’s findings made it quite clear that industry distrust has trashed CASA’s ability in its present form to deliver on its obligations, and that the government and the regulator must now introduce new, positive and safety-effective processes; while also restructuring regulations that have become ineffective, and in some cases close to unintelligible. At the same time the regulator (if the ASRR recommendations are to be adopted) must design and implement a new, binding and auditable strategy to restore industry trust and cooperation. It would be naive to expect that could be achieved without facing down the stolid resistance of entrenched opponents to reform at almost all levels within CASA, many of whose talents may need to be diverted into more appropriate fields of endeavour. The quality of their replacements will rely heavily on improved selection, training and direction, which will be a further ongoing challenge to any new management.
Some stakeholders believe that individuals working within the regulatory reform program (RRP) have simply been appointed without adequate training, backgrounding and direction, and that re-training could be part of the RRP solution when those deficiencies have been addressed.
Several have also expressed surprise that the role of CASA’s legal department in regulatory development and in adversarial regulatory conduct appears to have escaped the scrutiny of the ASRR and other analyses.
Reporting on the newly-presented report on June 3, ProAviation commented that:
“The remaining challenge for the Minister will be to protect the ASRR recommendations from the watering-down that was inflicted on the Pel-Air/ATSB/CASA investigation.”
“Watering-down” now appears to describe exactly what is happening. Asked in mid-June when the government’s response would be presented, the Ministers office told ProAviation, “The gov-ernment expects to finalise its response to the report in the spring 2014 sittings of Parliament.”
Unfortunately that timeframe means “some time in the period between August 26 and December 4,” the latter being the date that marks the commencement of a lengthy period of parliamentary and public service disengagement. This is a popular time of year to make such announcements because they are unlikely to see effective public scrutiny until mid-February at the earliest.
The Minister’s more recent update of the government’s intended response was “before the end of the year” which, we are told is political language for “in the period between December 25 and January 1.”
Industry Concerns are further heightened by the vacuum of information and the confusion sur-rounding the selection and appointment of new Board members (although everybody knows who they are) and of CASA’s new CEO. Some sources believe the CEO selection has narrowed down to two applicants, at least one of them from overseas and neither from an aviation background.
It is impossible to visualise how an incoming CEO from overseas, entrusted with the task of sorting out an organisation that is already shown to be dysfunctional, can be expected to determine with certainty who is competently addressing the problem and who is part of it.
Minister Truss’s June 3 statement to Parliament which repeated the word “safety” 16 times in CASA’s well-known style, did absolutely nothing to reflect the urgency that industry believes must now attach to implementing the ASRR’s 37 recommendations. In the understatement of the year the Minister only acknowledged that the report “also recognises that there are opportunities for the system to be improved to ensure Australia remains a global aviation leader.”
The opportunities have already been accurately identified in the ASRR’s recommendations, which are accompanied by ample analysis to identify viable solutions.
The urgency of improving the system was further highlighted by the regulatory ructions over the highly controversial flight crew licensing legislation known as the “Part 61 suite.” Having already deferred its implementation on December 12, 2013, CASA dumped the revised version on the industry’s doorstep the day after former CASA CEO John McCormick’s departure, along with a truckload of amendments and a maze of explanatory material explaining what the confusing amendments were claimed to have achieved.
“Does this tell you something about the standards within the original legislation and the compe-tency of those who produced it?” queries a retired CASA executive.
ProAviation suggests that the elements in government aviation-related agencies targeted by the incisive analysis, comments and recommendations of the ASRR, will have been far from idle since the release of the review. Industry cynics believe they will be planning rearguard strategies in the intervening time, producing reams of vigorous ‘safety’ based objections to the analysis and its recommendations.
A well-known (but unidentified) Internet commentator encapsulates industry concerns:
“We are watching a classic case of a bureaucratic fighting retreat. The Iron Ring will write a volume on why each of the recommendations is flawed and unsafe. They will simply wear Truss and the new DAS down with paper. That is why you need someone from PMC [Prime Minister & Cabinet office] to head this mess – they understand about file stuffing and other tricks. Truss and his staff do not. A PMC person needs to send the Iron Ring packing on day one. If that isn’t done, the embuggerance will continue unabated.)
(The ‘Iron Ring’ is one of several popular industry epithets covering the cadre of mostly faceless anti-reform activists that help populate the regulator’s mid-level and higher ranks.)
Added to industry concerns over the ASRR response are similar issues related to the ATSB’s and CASA’s responses to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee in-quiry into aviation accident investigations, tabled in May 2013. Senator David Fawcett’s speech on the AAI Report in June 2013 and the dialogue between Senator Nick Xenophon and Mr Bryan Aherne, an independent air safety and investigation specialist, will reassure readers that at least some parliamentarians are maintaining their strong awareness on these critical matters.
The aviation community is happier for knowing those two senators will be keeping an eye on the ball, especially when everybody settles down to study the impacts of what a phone caller has just described the new Part 61 as “The greatest debacle in regulatory implementation in my last 30 years of dealing with aviation regulation.”
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