The myth of Australian leadership in air safety is ripped apart in the final and ‘agreed’ report of the ICAO audit of air safety oversight in this country.
The findings reveal that CASA ‘does not conduct ongoing oversight of ETOPS reliability programs and consequently does not initiate actions in case a degraded level of safety is detected.’
ETOPS in lay terms stands for ‘engines turning or passengers swimming.’ It refers to the exceptionally strict parallel maintenance procedures on twin engined jets and their critical systems that fly long distances over water.
By conforming to those standards a Boeing 777-300ER for example may follow a route up to 180 minutes single engine speed from an airport at which it could land in the event that one of them fails.
Yet CASA wouldn’t know if there was a problem with the twin engined long haul standards of an airline as defined by the current annexes or rules of ICAO, but has promised to fix this by the end of this year.
The audit process conducted in February last year and explained in some detail in the posting immediately before this, found Australia was not up to date with its obligations to ICAO, in fact, didn’t even provide navigational charts fully compliant with international standards.
It said of CASA that “in general the training provided to technical staff is insufficient to address the competency requirements for all the technical tasks.”
In relation to airworthiness inspectors it found “some existing procedures do not fully reflect the required level of detail or are not kept up-to-date.”
CASA had not developed and implemented essential procedures for approving modifications and repairs, or to review and approve an airline’s maintenance control manual, or approve leases of jets from abroad.
And not only that, it’s corrective action plan does not fully satisfy ICAO.
The ICAO report makes Australia sound like a centre for dodgy aircraft parts.
It found that CASA has not provided industry with “sufficient guidance in relation to unapproved parts”. And it hadn’t “developed guidelines for the proper usage of parts removed from aircraft no longer in service and for the disposal of scrapped parts”. Nor does CASA intend to. Who is benefiting from this?
Australia also lacks one of the foundations of airline governance in the developed world, in defining the corporate responsibility for safety by the managements of carriers.
ICAO found that “There are no regulations in Australia that…clearly define the direct accountability for safety on the part of senior management.”
The body then notes that CASA delegates some tasks such as flight proficiency checks to qualified persons within an airline, but “CASA does not perform sufficient safety oversights of these delegated individuals, as the surveillance program is not being fully implemented.”
Huh! Does any one recall the current or previous ministers for transport telling the house that CASA can’t even put in place a program for the oversight of airline flight standards?
What is the CASA army actually doing?
ICAO says “training records of the technical staff are not systematically maintained in a manner that provides for effective evaluation of an individual’s competency…
“CASA does not have sufficient human resources to perform the assigned functions and responsibilities in the area of maintenance personnel licensing.
“Licensing staff do not systematically contact foreign aviation authorities to confirm the authenticity of foreign licences before validating or confirming them.”
It gets worse. Not only is there no regulated accountability for safety by senior management at the airlines, but Australia doesn’t even require them to preserve all flight data recordings and associated material to the extent possible if there is a crash or lesser incident.
In terms of fatigue is notes “Australia has not established regulations to limit flight time and flight duty periods as well as provide for adequate rest periods for cabin crew.” (Pilot regulations are in place.)
ICAO says “CASA has two dangerous goods inspectors, however this number is not sufficient for the level of activity in Australia to ensure effective oversight.” It also says these inspectors are inadequately trained or informed.
Contrary to international rules CASA has “not developed a comprehensive program of regular and random inspections of activities pertaining to the safe transport of dangerous goods by air. ”
It says CASA has not provided it with sufficient detail as to how it will fix this.
CASA should develop procedures to review the flight crew training and scheduling of those who fly any leased aircraft.
The audit calls for sufficient funding for the ATSB, the safety investigator, to allow it to investigate all aircraft accidents and serious incidents in accordance with Australia’s ICAO obligations.
Currently at its discretion, the ATSB does not investigate all accidents or incidents
The report notes that Australia disagrees with ICAO over this, meaning that it doesn’t intend complying.
Two things stand out from the audit report.
One is that Australia has agreed to fix almost all of these issues by the end of this year, which will require profound and widespread change in CASA .
The other is that for close on ten years prior to this audit the safety leadership and diligence of Australia in terms of air safety standards was a myth, and more the result of luck than rigor.