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US rehabilitates Israeli air safety, a lesson for Australia

The US Federal Aviation Agency’s rehabilitation of Israel as a Level 1 state in relation to air safety ought to be read as the clearest of warnings to Australia to get its act together without delay.

If Australia is busted down to Level 2, which on the evidence, it should be, the consequences include the prohibition under US law of code shares between Australian flag carriers and those of America.

The managements of Qantas and Virgin Australia need to carefully consider what losing their respective code share deals with American Airlines and Delta would mean, and ask whether the craven acceptance of the dismal state of affairs in CASA, the ATSB and AirServices Australia is worth the damage such a downgrade would inflict on their shareholders, employees and commercial reputations.

When Israel flouted its responsibilities and was busted for almost four years, it failed to lobby its way out of trouble, which was quite surprising. But as Wikileaks showed earlier this year, when Australia provisionally failed the necessary audits to retain Level 1 status, our lobbying efforts saved the day.

Since then matters if judged by recent events, have gone backwards in CASA, the ATSB and AirServices Australia, and the risk of a safety downgrade and all of its commercial consequences should be treated (as it may already be in high places) as being severe and imminent.

This is the FAA statement concerning Israel, released overnight:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced that Israel complies with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), based on the results of an October FAA review of Israel’s civil aviation authority.

Israel is now upgraded to Category 1 from the Category 2 safety rating the country received from the FAA in December 2008. Israel’s civil aviation authority worked with the FAA on an action plan so that its safety oversight system fully complies with ICAO’s standards and practices.

A Category 1 rating means the country’s civil aviation authority complies with ICAO standards. A Category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority – equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping or inspection procedures

With the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Category 1 rating, Israeli air carriers can add flights and service to the United States and carry the code of U.S. carriers. With the Category 2 rating, Israeli air carriers were allowed to maintain existing service to the United States, but could not establish new services

As part of the FAA’s IASA program, the agency assesses the civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that operate or have applied to fly to the United States and makes that information available to the public. The assessments determine whether or not foreign civil aviation authorities are meeting ICAO safety standards, not FAA regulations

In order to maintain a Category 1 rating, countries with air carriers that fly to the United States must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

This is the situation in Australia, in terse form:

CASA is accused in multiple places, including under parliamentary privilege before the Senate, of conspiring with the ATSB, to withhold vital safety information contrary to the provisions of the Transport Safety Information Act of 2003 in order to protect the reputation of operator Pel-Air in relation to the ditching of one of Westwind jets off Norfolk Island in 2009, in the final report into the crash published by the ATSB on 30 August.

The ATSB has admitted that the report is not one it can be proud of, through its chief commissioner Martin Dolan, and the general manager, air safety investigations, Ian Sangston, deposed that he didn’t even know what safety questions had been asked of the survivors, but signed off on a report that did not even say whether the safety equipment on the jet worked. (It didn’t.)

AirServices Australia has recently lost at least two airliners in Australian controlled airspace, and in the case of the Virgin Australia 737 that it lost track of for most of the way between Sydney and Brisbane, lied about to the media, and has not addressed evidence that the notification of the incident to the ATSB was so inaccurate in the first instance that it had to be amended after the fact.

There are many more areas of administrative and competency failures, as regular readers of Plane Talking would be aware.

The damage the situation in CASA, the ATSB and AirServices Australia can do to life, property and the economic interests of this country are considerable. They are conveniently ignored in the general media and public life. The inconvenience that will arise without determined and urgent corrective action cannot be understated.

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  • 1
    comet
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Questions should also be asked about the FAA. When the FAA knows full well that a country (Australia) should be given Level 2 status, why is the FAA so easily influenced by political lobbying?

    It would be in the interests of Australia to be busted down, as only a shock to the system will wake up our politicians to act. The previous threat of Level 2 status was obviously not enough to spark any action.

    Why does Australia want to keep its aviation regulators in such an abysmal state? It’s completely bizarre.

  • 2
    JAS
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Ben, I was most interested when I first heard about the Wikileaks finding of the assessment of Australia’s safety rating. It has been known for a long time that administration of aviation safety was running thin for those that worked in the industry and dealt on a one to one basis with the regulators.

    Interestingly around the same time that the FAA gave notice to Australian officials of its findings from their audit a surprising number of job advertisements started appearing, most on the ATSB website. It is unusual to find government job placements in the aviation field. One usually waits until a canary falls off its perch before a position becomes vacant. It appears evident that the Australian government quickly responded to the FAA’s requests and ticked the boxes necessary to correct the non-conformance items.

    In response to comet, Australia’s civil and defense offices have spent perhaps 15 years transitioning. Once the government was accountable for all aspects of aviation safety, now a lot of that function has been outsourced to industry. Australian civil aviation regulations have also undergone a massive change to align with the FAA regulations. I am not sure if this alignment made it easier for the FAA to audit the deficiencies in the Australian system.

  • 3
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Great article Ben – Congratulations for bringing this to the for-front. There are a large number of areas that CASA is not up to speed in and that affect the public. Reg 206 and CAA 26BD which are the basis for all operations are not policed by the regulator as is the lack of proper surveillance of individual AOC’s when “awarded”. The Pel-Air incident is the latest and when the FAA reviewed the Aus system in December 2009, it expressed concern and said a downgrade was contemplated – In part: {A downgrade to Category 2 would be the worst-case scenario, which would entail measures such as freezing Australia-U.S. flight operations to current levels and terminating code-sharing arrangements, such as the one between Qantas and American Airlines.}

  • 4
    Over the top
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    People in Glass house shouldn’t rate systems.
    Have you read the book by Robert M Misic entitled  ” Crash & Burn- The Bureaupathology of the Federal Aviation Administration”
    Robert is a retired FAA air traffic controller from Miami Florida who’s collection of stories from his time in the FAA  describing the administrations own  myriad of internal deficiencies and cover ups will leave you asking if they would meet the requirements of their own category one rating.

  • 5
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    The FAA definitely has a less than perfect history, and I could argue the same point when it comes to the certification of the MD-11, the most inherently dangerous jet ever approved by the agency, as well as its determined avoidance of the truth in the case of a faulty cargo hold latch on earlier 747s and the rudder handover issue in 737s.

    But the post is about the reality that unless we get our acts in aviation administration together in this part of the 21st century, we will get busted to level 2, and the consequences for Qantas and Virgin Australia will be very unwelcome. This isn’t about America, it’s about Australia.

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