CASA rulemaking uncertainty stalls rescue chopper plans

Paul Phelan, April 4 2015

The South Australian government’s State Rescue Helicopter Service (SRHS) has been forced to cancel a request for proposals (RFP) to helicopter operators because of uncertainty over the future costs changes after full implementation of CASR (Civil Aviation Safety Regulations).

A letter from the SA Attorney General’s Department to interested parties has explained the department’s understanding that details provided to prospective tenderers were likely to be outdated while tenders were being prepared.

I am writing to advise that, unfortunately, the State Rescue Helicopter Service (SRHS) Request for Proposal 13/1113 (the ‘RFP’) issued to you in January 2014 has been terminated. This takes effect immediately and is in keeping with the Bid Rules of the RFP.

Our decision to terminate the RFP follows the events and our learnings subsequent to the RFP’s issue, including:

  • the likely combined consequence of regulation changes that Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) earlier forecasted to operators of rotary wing aircraft services, such as the SRHS;
  • in December 2014, CASA confirming its intention and support to legislate those changes.

Our conclusion was the impending CASA regulation changes will demand similarly substantial changes to the SRHS requirements described in the RFP.

The end result is that it has left us with no option but to conduct a comprehensive reassessment of what the future needs of the SRHS will be and how to best meet them, taking into account the impending CASA regulation changes.

Subject to more certainty about the impending CASA regulations and SA Cabinet approval, our intention is to recommend a new approach to the open market in 2016, to meet the future requirements of the SRHS.”

The multi-unit service has been operated since December 2005 on a seven-year contract with Australian Helicopters Pty Ltd. In a shared-user arrangement unique to South Australia, the service is used by SA police, bushfire management and emergency medical retrieval services to the SA community.

Asked about interim arrangements the SA Attorney-General’s office said: “At this stage we are unable to comment on the interim arrangements for the State Rescue Helicopter Service as it is subject to approval and finalisation.”

Other operators competing for government contracts are expecting similar uncertainties when ongoing contracts are up for review.

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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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