CASA’s actions in withholding from the ATSB  a document relevant to the 2009 crash of a Pel-Air Westwind jet near Norfolk Island has been referred by a Senate committee to the Federal Police.

In its inquiry into the handling of the crash by CASA, the safety regulator, and the ATSB, the supposedly independent safety investigator,  it said today:

‘The committee considers that CASA’s decision to withhold important documents from the ATSB had a severe impact on the ATSB’s investigative process.”

The documents revealed serious shortcomings in CASA’s functionality and oversight in relation to Pel-Air, the operator of the Careflight aeromedical mission that run out of fuel shortly before it was ditched without loss of life after several attempts to land at Norfolk Island to refuel in deteriorating weather.

Non-disclosure of all relevant documents to the ATSB in the course of an accident inquiry is a breach of section 24 of the Transport Safety Investigations Act.

There are two documents that are highlighted in this regard by the Senate committee. One was a special audit of Pel-Air conducted by CASA at the time of the crash, which was not withheld by CASA but not formerly requested by the ATSB until late in its investigation.

The other was a Chambers Review ordered by CASA’s Director of Aviation Safety, John McCormick, which was suppressed by CASA, indeed unknown to the ATSB until a copy of it was provided to its chief commissioner Martin Dolan earlier this year.

This is what the Senate committee had to say about the special audit and Chambers review

Dolan was dismissive of the value of the special audit and the Chambers Review in arriving at a position where he agreed with CASA that it was all the fault of the pilot, and not in any material way, by the non-performance of CASA or the unsafe state of Pel-Air’s Westwind operations at the time of the crash.

This is what the committee said of the Chambers Review:

And again, about the fact that this was a preventible accident had CASA done its duty, and one which if the ATSB did its job, would have been a deficiency it was supposed to identify with a view to being a safety lesson that could be used to prevent future accidents.

After considering the consequences of the actions of CASA in withholding the Chambers review from the ATSB the committee says:

The committee is much fiercer in its criticisms of the performance of the ATSB and CASA in the body of the report than it is in the executive summary sections.

These criticisms have implications for Australia’s standing as a first ranking state in terms of aviation safety when its safeguard organisations are exposed for behaving in their own organisational interests rather than those of the public.

The finding that “CASA’s actions have influenced the conduct of the ATSB investigation to the detriment of aviation safety” is a clear signal to the Minister that action must be taken to restore the integrity of public administration in air safety in Australia with urgency.

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