Indecent haste

Jabiru Aircraft’s Managing Director Rod Stiff has written to Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss in outrage over what he describes as “an unprovoked, unjustified attack on Jabiru and Light Sport Aviation.”
Jabiru markets a range of eight light sport aircraft models – four factory-built and four kit-build units. The company has sold 1547 aircraft into 47 countries, and has sales representation in over 70 nations. Jabiru also manufactures and markets four and six-cylinder engines either as finished units or “firewall-forward” conversion kits to replace other engine types. The company also produces power plants for at least one the world’s biggest manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “drone” aircraft, which demand high reliability because of the value of their high-technology payloads. Jabiru has sold about 250 engines to that manufacturer over the last 15 years and at peak production, produces 20 airframes and 50 engines per month.

Owen Zupp's Jabiru
“The action was taken without enquiry, without facts, and by way of a published statement that harms Jabiru, and was immediately published internationally,” says Mr Stiff. (This narrative is directly drawn from information supplied by Jabiru and RA-Aus.)
CASA launched its action on 27 October 2014, with a request to RA-Aus for specific data relating to operations of Jabiru aircraft and a specific deadline of November 10, requiring significant investment of RA-Aus resources. The information requested was for the stated purposes of a proposed SASAO (Sports Aviation Self Administering Organisations) audit of Jabiru’s operations on 17 November 2014. The data provided contained information on incidents and accidents involving Jabiru engines for the year to date, covering the period from 1 January 2014 until 27 October 2014.
RA-Aus formally submitted the information to SASAO on 3 November 2014.
On 4 November 2014 CASA engaged directly with Jabiru in relation to the proposed restrictions on Jabiru aircraft which included all aircraft manufactured by Jabiru as well as those non-Jabiru aircraft that have a Jabiru power plant. In this notice CASA clearly states: “Prior to making the instrument, CASA invites Jabiru to make representations about the terms of the proposed instrument…”
In the days immediately following, Jabiru arranged to meet with CASA on 14 November 2014 to address the concerns and to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the terms of the instrument as outlined in the regulator’s notice. This meeting was also intended to action CASA’s request for Jabiru to respond by 10 November although it should be noted that due to illness of key CASA staff the meeting could not take place by the required date and that CASA agreed to extend the time. At this point Jabiru was led to believe that the proposed instrument would not be published until after the scheduled meeting.
On the afternoon of 13 November CASA pre-empted the outcome of the scheduled meeting with Jabiru and effectively ended the consultation with the manufacturer by publishing the commercially destructive ‘proposed instrument.’ This occurred some 18 hours prior to the scheduled consultation with Jabiru.
The derogatory information circulated by CASA said:
CASA is responding to a high, and increasing, rate of engine failures among aircraft that are powered by engines manufactured by, or under licence from, Jabiru Aircraft Pty Ltd (Jabiru). Such aircraft are referred to in this document as ‘Jabiru powered aircraft’.
The issues appear to be the result of several failure modes, which require separate investigation.
CASA has formed the view that its functions under the Civil Aviation Act 198 8 require it to mitigate certain risks to passengers, trainee pilots and persons on the ground.
The instrument will impose operating limitations on Jabiru powered aircraft that are issued with a CASR Part 21 authorisation by way of conditions under CASR 11.068.
CASA went on to list a set of proposed operating limitations on Jabiru-powered aircraft, including limiting them to day VFR operations only, not overflying populous areas, forbidding carraige of passengers, banning solo flights by student pilots, and displaying warning notices that “occupants fly in the aircraft at their own risk.”
RA-Aus says that even in the days prior to this the organisation began receiving enquiries from concerned members noting that CASA officials had made mention of the proposed actions ‘over a beer or two’ during the national Chief Flying Instructor conference held by RA-Aus. The conference is an annual event designed to inform RA-Aus instructors on new developments, changes to rules and generally improve safety in the aviation industry through the provision of training and education. It is fully funded by RA-Aus with no support from CASA or any other public source of funds
Following the publication of the draft instrument RA-Aus was “inundated” with communication from aircraft owners, flight training facilities and aircraft maintainers expressing concerns about the proposed restrictions and the potential impacts on business viability and reputational damage as a result. It should be noted that the information provided covered a period of less than one year and should have resulted in deeper engineering analysis by CASA as to root causal factors, along with requests for further detail prior to any action taken by the regulator. RA-Aus says it is firmly of the view that any conclusions drawn from the data are deficient in detail and do not address fundamental issues relating to potential manufacturing, operational and any other possible deficiencies:
“At the time of writing [the submission to Warren Truss] it has become apparent that CASA recognised this deficiency in terms of their understanding of the data that was provided on 3 November. On 18 November CASA wrote to RA-Aus seeking instruction on how to identify 28 engine related issues referred to earlier in this submission. It is of serious concern that CASA does not only provide a basis for its decision, it does not understand the data provided by RA-Aus and has acted on a flawed understanding of the issues.”.
“Jabiru rejects outright the suggestions implied in this threat which was made without warning,” Mr Stiff has told Minister Truss. “The public international threat to the company with its damaging effect on Australian aviation and safety should be immediately ended through withdrawal by CASA,” says Mr Stiff.
Michael Monck, President of the RAA, has already sent a separate document to CASA which Mr Stiff describes as “very forthright.” (See previous article, Get on with it!)
The most serious aspect of the entire CASA action was the distortion CASA applied to the raw information from RA-Aus, says Mr Stiff: “We vetted the whole RA-Aus list when we finally got hold of it. CASA actually asked RA-Aus for their numbers after they had drafted the instrument – they didn’t have anything until I asked RA-Aus and they sent them their unedited list of incidents which included everything and listed 40 engine failures, so that’s where CASA’s magic 40 figure came from.
“Jabiru had addressed most of the identified problems over three years ago. I believe CASA has been negligent because they never consulted with us before they introduced the consultation draft, and they pulled the rug out from under us while we were on the plane on the way down. They couldn’t wait another day to talk about the issue, which really tells you what the intent was; the intent was obviously to damage us to the point where we couldn’t survive.
“When we finally worked that out with RA-Aus we spent a whole weekend going through the 40 events, comparing it with our list of failures, and working out which were just maintenance items like leaking fuel pumps, or simply running out of fuel, which were all on the CASA list. When we’d tidied it up we actually added some to the CASA list and when that was sorted out there were 12 actual in-flight engine failures which led to genuine forced landings. But that was in 93,000 flights, and 43,000 flying hours. And it was mainly flying schools because Jabirus are such popular training aircraft. We already had corrective measures in place for almost all of those 12, and had implemented them since 2011.”
In earlier discussions, Jabiru had offered CASA information from a detailed survey of light sport aircraft safety in the United States, conducted by Aviation Consumer magazine, which placed Jabiru’s safety record in the top three of over a dozen types along with Cessna 152 and Cessna Skycatcher in three categories:
• Overall accident rate per 100,000 hours of flight (Jabiru was second only to Cessna 152);
• Fatal accident rate (Jabiru’s score was zero in USA); and
• Accidents per hundred aeroplanes registered (Jabiru was second only to Cessna 152 and Skycatcher.
“Of a claimed 40 Jabiru ‘engine failures’, the actual number of genuine failures is only 12 out of over 1500 aircraft. And there has not been a single fatality, and very few injuries.”
“Jabiru has settled CASAs concerns. We are looking forward to Mr. Higgins from CASA coming to Bundaberg as he has said, to see these outcomes. For example, Jabiru has not had a recorded through-bolt failure in any engine produced since 2011.
“The evidence available to Jabiru shows there have been no deaths in Jabiru aircraft arising from engine stoppage. That is the case internationally. Between January 2013 and November 2014 there have been a number of deaths in light sport aircraft in Australia in other aircraft than Jabiru. CASA ought to be addressing that matter.
“CASA should also be looking elsewhere for more serious air safety issues in light sport aviation. If 19 deaths did occur and none was in Jabiru aircraft, then CASA ought to be attending to those issues, and not attacking this company without notice.
“Turning to the substance of the response demanded by the CASA, the issues of Jabiru engine operation to which it relates have effectively been resolved. There was no need for the world-wide denigration of Jabiru.”

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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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