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Australia’s air safety regulator attacks Senate witnesses

With just over a week to go before further public hearings, Australia’s air safety regulator CASA has filed character and integrity attacks on one of the main witnesses at the opening session, Mick Quinn, himself a former senior CASA executive, as well as criticising Bryan Aherne, an aviation safety analyst.

The supplementary statements can be accessed on the site for the Senate inquiry into Aviation Accident Investigations which has as it cause and main focus, the final Australian Transport Safety Bureau report into the ditching near Norfolk Island of a Pel-Air corporate jet performing a medical mission in November 2009.

What the Senators conducting the inquiry will make of these new submissions and other material is of course a matter for them.

It is also a matter of public record under parliamentary privilege that the chief commissioner of the ATSB, Martin Dolan, and the general manager air safety investigation at the ATSB, Ian Sangston, have made admissions that undermine the professionalism, integrity and relevance of the air safety investigator in relation to the Pel-Air report issued on 30 August, and have in effect disowned a report which has been attacked as inaccurate as well as failing to make the most basic of findings over the functionality of the safety equipment on board the Westwind jet, which proved all but totally useless in a crash in which the aircraft broke apart and sank and the six persons on board were all fortuitously rescued by a Norfolk Island boat.

This flawed report damages the reputation of Australia for accurate and impartial air safety investigations for as long as it remains in effect.

It is also a matter of public record and interest that the committee is looking at how and why both CASA, the regulator, and the ATSB, the investigator, respectively influenced and crafted the final report to avoid all references to a highly unsatisfactory safety audit of the operator Pel-Air by CASA, the failure of CASA to properly regulate fuel planning and other safety critical factors in flights such as the one the crashed, the failure of CASA to perform oversight of the operator and its pilots, and the implications of Pel-Air deploying a jet that wasn’t equipped to lawfully remain at altitudes used by scheduled airliners if called upon by air traffic control to vacate such air space, as occurred on the night of the crash.

Why CASA in particular has chosen to file a supplementary submission that has precious little to do with its performance of its responsibilities in relation to this accident remains unclear, unless we assume that CASA, and the ATSB, think the committee members are stupid.

The next session, scheduled for 19 November, may cast light on these matters.

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  • 1
    ltfisher
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Oh Ben, this is getting really messy.It must be consuming an awful amount of administrative time. in CASA and the ATSB. However, what is really concerning is how the proceedings seem to have become totally adversarial/knock down drag out, and the language very much lawyer-talk. I just hope the Committee will not be smothered by the amount of paper being generated

  • 2
    Fueldrum
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    CASA approved an operator’s manual that permitted the flight to be undertaken without fuel reserves for an alternate. Two years after the accident they still haven’t credibly explained this. That this manual was approved suggests that the CASA personnel making the key decisions don’t understand aviation; even a private pilot understands the potential consequences of not having fuel, plans and charts for an alternate. CASA’s ad hominem slander seems to be a diversion from the actual problem.

    I suggest that the committee call CASA personnel before them and ask very specific questions to avoid being sidetracked. Why was that operating manual approved? Who approved it and how was this person qualified to do so? The flight was in international airspace and ICAO has very specific rules on fuel reserves for an alternate. Who decided that these rules could be waived and what authority did this person have to waive them?

    I understand that this could get messy but people who have the power to waive longstanding aviation rules need to understand what they are doing. Ensuring that CASA observes this principle is a core function of the Parliament.

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