Preaching to the unconverted

A packed meeting of aircraft maintenance organisations on April 20 has left attendees irate, confused, disappointed, and increasingly vocal about their concerns at CASA’s management of the transition to new maintenance regulations and the industry’s ability to survive the process without some serious changes in direction and management.

AMROBA (Aviation Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul Business Association) convened the meeting and over 80 people attended to discuss urgent issues affecting their industry. AMROBA Executive Director Ken Cannane says although most were from Queensland’s south-east corner, representatives from New South Wales, North Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Victoria were also present.Amroba people

CASA had also been invited and its team comprised Director John McCormick, Associate Director Jonathan Aleck, Industry Complaints Commissioner Elizabeth Hampton and Eastern Region Operations Manager Peter John. Senator Ian MacDonald from Townsville also attended, and by invitation opened the meeting.

Several people present have since contacted ProAviation and we’ve now heard separate accounts of the meeting from about 20% of the AMROBA members present, all of whom formed disturbingly similar impressions. The meeting was recorded either wholly or in part by various people, and some of their individual comments are in blue type, de-identified for the obvious reason that:

“People with any sort of involvement with CASA live in fear of retribution, and it only takes an aggressive audit by a bully with a biro to put you out of business. And they’ve worked out half a dozen different ways to do that without due legal process.”

The interface with CASA got off to an unfortunate start.

“The purpose of the meeting was to get everybody along, invite CASA and raise with them the systemic issues that have been affecting the whole industry, especially the relationship between CASA and the local offices, where non-standard approaches are being taken all around the country. We wanted CASA to be there so they could listen to those concerns. Nobody expected them to give a final answer on anything; they just wanted to have a meeting where we could get the points across and explain our concerns.

“Ken Cannane had structured the sessions so that members could first discuss their issues and put them into an agenda, then after a planned break CASA’s representatives would arrive and have those concerns put to them in an orderly way.”

Unfortunately the meeting didn’t work out quite like that. Another AMROBA member continues the commentary:

AMROBA 03b“Before we’d had the planned break, John McCormick just walked into the room and took over the microphone, and started by saying that AMROBA was misleading the industry as well as others. He then went on to totally mislead the industry on the applicability of CASR Part 145. He started off by saying many didn’t need CASR Part 145 unless they were maintaining high capacity (more than 36 seat) aircraft. This is totally misleading as everyone in that room who are maintaining passenger-carrying aircraft operating under CAR206(c)(i) and/or aeronautical components for those aircraft know that they need Part 145 to do with they’re doing and remain viable. In fact, it was CASA who had contacted most of the organisations urging them to get their applications for Part 145 started.”

And a third observer:

“It started off very nicely, but it was just taken over by John McCormick. We were there to talk about complaints but he transferred it all back to Part 145 – ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, there is no Part 145 for GA at the moment, we are still writing it.’”

To put that in perspective one AMROBA member says he receives an e-mail frequently from his local CASA office, in the form of update reminders of the countdown to the transition deadline on June 24 of this year. An extract from one of those letters says:

I am writing in relation to the requirement for your organisation to transition from CAR 30 (1988) to CASR 145 (1998) Certificate of Approval for the maintenance of aircraft or aeronautical product for the purpose of Regular Public Transport as defined by CAR 206 (1) (c) (1988).

The deadline for the completed transition to CASR 145 is the 26th June 2013 as identified in transitional regulation CASR 202.180 (1998).

Today there are 10 weeks and 5 days until the 26th June 2013, for organisations that are unable to transition (this being a signed certificate issued by CASA) by this date will be advised that from the 27th June 2012 [sic] they are unable to support RPT operators with the maintenance of aircraft or aeronautical product requirements until the organisation has been assessed, approved and the certificate issued.

An exploratory cruise around CASA’s website helps us understand how these busy people manage to make such precise calculations of deadlines. There’s actually a rolling counter, just like the flashing dial of the nuclear device in the heroine’s wine cellar in a James Bond movie:


The confusion is further compounded by two snippets of information currently on the CASA website:

Who the regulations apply to and how

The maintenance suite of regulations does not apply to all sectors of aviation operations.

>              Part 42 (covering continuing airworthiness requirements) and Part 145 (covering approved maintenance organisations) apply to only the regular public transport sector.

>              Part 66 covers maintenance personnel licensing.

>              CAR 31 licences are no longer valid and LAMEs now qualify for part 66 licences.

>              The current maintenance regulations covering other sectors of operations, such as charter, general aviation and aerial work, will be revised at a later date.           

Regular public transport (RPT) aircraft operators – Part 145

If you provide maintenance services for aircraft or aeronautical products operated in RPT, you will have to work in a Part 145 AMO or gain a part 145 AMO approval.

You will need to provide those maintenance services within the scope of the AMO’s approval, working to the maintenance performance rules of CASR Part 42 and in accordance with the instructions for continuing airworthiness provided by the CAMO for the aircraft.

Additionally design data approved under Part 21 for modifications and repairs will be used by part 145 AMOs performing maintenance to standards and performance rules of Part 42

The cited regulation reads:

206         Commercial purposes (Act, s 27 (9))

(1)          For the purposes of subsection 27 (9) of the Act, the following commercial purposes are prescribed.

(c)    the purpose of transporting persons generally, or transporting cargo for persons generally, for hire or reward in accordance with fixed schedules to and from fixed terminals over specific routes with or without intermediate stopping places between terminals.

CAR 206 doesn’t link its applicability to any specified minimum passenger seat capacity. Therefore by definition a large number of Australian commercial air operators flying piston and turboprop aircraft with between five and 35 seats are captured by the quoted requirement to have their aircraft maintained by CAR 145 certificate holders – or to hold a CAR 145 approval in their own right.

“A lot of members believe that in the absence of a published CASA policy to the contrary, the field offices have got it right, and that if Mr McCormick believes something else should be the case, it’s up to him to develop and circulate a document that explains and implements his intent, but certainly not without exposing it to comprehensive industry consultation, given the confusion that exists already.”

“It was encouraging to see those 80 or 90 people who have been pushed to a point where they are prepared to go public, to stand up and make a statement, with a fair possibility that there will be retribution against them.”

Everybody we spoke with shared those concerns, which were also acknowledged by Senator MacDonald. He urged people who feared victimisation not only to send their complaints to Ms Hampton, but also to send a copy to his office or contact him directly. The sense of being bullied came up so frequently, unprompted, and from so many separate individuals, that it is informative to quote the comments of a few, emphasising that each paragraph represents the volunteered opinion of a separate individual who was present at the meeting.


A couple of thousand years of industry experience

We apologise in advance to those CASA employees who are not part of the bullying culture which was one of the prime reasons for the AMROBA meeting:

“It’s all about bullying and intimidation, and basically they are bluffing, but they are bluffing from a position of power and that’s called bullying. If you threaten to shut someone down or pull their licence or whatever, that’s bullying. You don’t even have to do it, all you have to do is just threaten.”

“The Senator, Ian MacDonald, had to interject a few times and tell [Mr McCormick] “John, can you stop and let this person make a point?” He can’t, it’s not in his nature to do so. It is now obvious to everybody why we’ve gone the way we have with the rules, and why CASA is at odds with the industry, and why all these complaints are coming in from the South East Queensland region.”

“It was like an out of body experience for someone like me – it was like being in school and somebody walking in, a bullying sports master or whatever, talking at you and not to you. He was downright derogatory to [another member], he said “what a crock” or words to that effect when [the member] told him how much the Part 145 edict had cost him.”

“You’ve probably heard this from at least half of the other people, but I must say I have never struck a more apparently arrogant, rude person in my life than the CEO of CASA, and I’ve never struck a person who was the CEO of an organisation who appeared to be so out of touch with what was happening out in the field.”

“There’s John McCormick standing up and saying ‘you people don’t want to be regulated,’ but a dozen people said ‘no, we never said that, we understand the need to be regulated, but we just want it to be done fairly and professionally and in compliance with the ICAO requirements that it should not be punitive. But that’s where the problem is; they look at an issue and say, ‘here’s a $5,000 fine until you can prove yourself innocent.’”

The AWIs said they had been told to stay away.”

It was exactly that kind of scenario that prompted the meeting in the first place. At first the concerns largely involved a handful of officials in south-east Queensland. In one instance that was widely discussed, an MRO operator had been extraordinarily badly treated by the incorrect decision of an AWI which had imposed enormous cost on a specialist maintenance operator and two their clients, causing incalculable harm to the company’s reputation and future prospects.

That issue was to be extensively covered in this article, but an hour before publication we were advised that a written apology was now expected from CASA and the person responsible had been stood down and a satisfactory resolution was expected. There were no details of financial compensation.

Click! We’ve just deleted 800 well chosen words (but have retained a copy.) Notwithstanding that, the event appears to have the characteristics of many similar incidents which suggest seriously endemic failure to interpret the rules correctly, an apparent lack of training and supervision, and failures of senior management to intervene determinedly and positively when the decisions of officials are contested.

And there were other serious grievances on the table. One was a remote area CAR 30 operator who had been bullied into terminating the employment of three apprentices based on the AWI’s claim that he had insufficient licence coverage to supervise them, and forced to reject a fourth apprentice who had also relocated his family in anticipation of employment:

“In hindsight I have been told that he had no right to do that, but after having been lectured and bullied for two days, the word is you are frightened. They’re attacking you on every front, and by that time it didn’t matter what I did, it was wrongI It was the spelling in my log books, the grammar, where the logbooks were positioned in the hangar, everything was wrong. I’d had four audits and everything’s been the same, I’ve never had a problem, and suddenly my last audit had three NCNs, then 77 NCNs on the same manual.”

“It is now obvious to everybody why we’ve gone the way we have with the rules, and why CASA is at odds with the industry, I believe that anybody who knew Mr McCormick or was with him would have been embarrassed at the way he performed.”

“A lot of people were trying to explain that they are auditing us to Part 145, and he (Mr McCormick) stood up and said ‘145 is not even in yet, that’s not true!’ Well, everybody said ‘yes it is, it is happening, it’s happening everywhere.’ And he just screams over the top of everyone. By the end of it he wasted so much time shouting at the top of his voice, the meeting was basically over, and everybody was looking at one another and saying ‘Well, it was a complete waste of time.’”

Well, perhaps not quite. ProAviation sent a detailed query to CASA on May 6 in response to comments from the director of the CASA website headed: Misconceptions by some sections of the industry which referred to “some of the ill-informed statements in the aviation press.” The response, which arrived literally five minutes before we hit the publish button tonight is published in full below, and in our view it leaves serious unanswered questions regarding the future of remote area air services.

Thanks for your e-mails seeking clarification on requirements to transition to Part 145 by 26 June.

To clarify, there is no distinction made based on seating capacity for operations described under CAR 206(1)(c) [RPT] nor is any similar distinction made in Part 145 in relation to maintenance organisations which provide services to the RPT sector.

In the case of the correspondence you have quoted, this is not a general instruction to all AMOs. The correspondence has only been sent to recipients who currently hold CAR 30 certificates and who have indicated they conduct, or wish to conduct, maintenance of aircraft or aeronautical products associated with RPT operations, after 26 June 2013. The correspondence was targeted particularly at those who had indicated they wanted to transition to Part 145 by 26 June 2013, but from whom CASA has received little or no recent communication. The correspondence was intended to remind recipients that the transition period expires on 26 June 2013 and if transition is not made, they will not be able to provide services to RPT operators from that date and until a transition to Part 145 has been accomplished. This is consistent with advice provided on CASA’s website.

CASA reiterates that the revision of maintenance rules to accommodate operators and AMOs that fall within the current definitions of aerial work, charter, and private operations are under development. The Discussion Papers outlining a range of considerations have been circulated for public comment. CASA will review comments received and determine what further consultation might be necessary. Ultimately, and in accordance with its consultation processes, CASA will issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making, a Notice of Final Rule Making, and the legislation will be made – But only after extensive consultation with industry. Until that time, those AMOs that are not conducting maintenance for RPT services will continue to operate under their current CAR 30 approval.

Best regards,

As always, readers’ rational and expletive-free views on these issues are expected and welcome, and identities will be withheld if requested.


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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."

One thought on “Preaching to the unconverted

  1. Name withheld

    I think the story that you have retained, should be published, and if the apology is forthcoming that could follow on. Transparency with a warts and all approach is required. I know the rough story and the MRO concerned and they have every right to be mad as hell and should seek compensation for the lost business and harm caused to many people so far and the ongoing loss of revenue.

    All it takes for the forces of evil to rule the world, is for enough good men to do nothing!

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