May 23, 2013

Senate committee ATSB,CASA, Pel-Air wrap

For those who want it in dot points or a tiny silver screen this is what's in or a consequence of the Senate committee inquiry into the air accident investigation (Pel-Air) report.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

For those who want it in dot points or a tiny silver screen this is what’s in or a consequence of the Senate committee inquiry into the air accident investigation (Pel-Air) report.

  • CASA and thus its Director of Air Safety, John McCormick, have been referred to the Federal Police for a possible breach of the Transport Safety Investigations Act in relation to withholding a relevant document from the ATSB
  • The chief commissioner of the ATSB, Martin Dolan, has been severely criticised by the committee for his testimony and the actions of the supposedly independent air safety investigator
  • CASA has been warned not to do anything that would offend the protections of parliamentary privilege given to those who made submissions or testimony to the committee in public or in camera.
  • The ATSB’s conduct of the Pel-Air inquiry has been variously described as compromised, illogical, inadequate and contrary to the interest of aviation safety or public confidence in air safety investigations in Australia
  • The ATSB should reopen its inquiry into the Pel-Air crash and take into account factors it excluded in favour of blaming almost everything on the pilot
  • Improvements to weather information availability on Norfolk Island should be variously made or considered
  • CASA has been found to have withheld information that if published would have reflected poorly on its acquittal of its duties of oversight and regulation in relation to Pel-Air.
  • Both organisations have been criticised for being more concerned with their image than public safety issues
  • CASA withheld information that showed that it was aware of deficiencies in the Pel-Air operation which if acted upon may have prevented the Pel-Air crash
  • The chief commissioner of the ATSB tried to rely on an international rule concerning air safety investigation that didn’t take force for a year after the Pel-Air crash to justify not retrieving the flight data recorder from the seabed near Norfolk Island
  • The committee has made a series of recommendations for improving the transparency and integrity and effectiveness of the ATSB and CASA by the appointment of a powerful Inspector-General of Aviation Safety
  • The Senate committee’s findings are unprecedented in the dissatisfaction expressed in the quality, integrity and effectiveness of air safety administration in Australia as in the Federal Police referral and the warning to a public authority not to take action against those whose testimony is protected by parliamentary privilege.
  • There is no immediately discoverable record of a national air safety investigator even being requested by a parliamentary review committee to reopen an inquiry on the basis of it being deficient on multiple grounds including internationally accepted standards for such activities



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6 thoughts on “Senate committee ATSB,CASA, Pel-Air wrap

  1. discus

    Thank you for the summary Ben.Unbelievable stuff. I can almost here the desks being cleared and packed up as we speak.

  2. Cat on a PC©

    Yes, great summary Ben. Wonder what Mac Job would make of of all this?

  3. David Klein

    Ben, as you know from my previous posts as a retired CASA inspector I have tried to expose the shortcomings of the audit and surveillance system for years and was a witness on a previous Senate Inquiry into CASA management under previous Director Bruce Byron. Believe me the Pel Air incident is just the tip of the iceberg and as a front line inspector oversighting Qantas for over 10 years there is no question the frequency and depth of audits and surveillance requirements in the procedures manuals is not going to reveal many of the critical non compliance issues.
    My comment that nothing will change unless Qantas loses an aeroplane still stands.

  4. Fueldrum

    Mr. Klein,

    Would things change if a senior CASA officer is convicted and/or imprisoned for withholding important documents from the ATSB? Because that is what they appear to have done.

  5. wildsky

    What the report said is that the Committee intends to “write to the Australian Federal Police, providing a copy of this report and supporting evidence for review.”

    It would not appear that the Committee has sought an opinion from the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General (if he could be dragged away from his phone!) or the Commonwealth DPP on whether the circumstances even support the possibility of a breach of s24 of the Act.

    Frankly, I think it is a monumental furphy – what duty did the DAS have to volunteer an internal opinion piece to an investigation that clearly had no interest in any systemic or organisational issues? I look forward to the determination of “intent”, even if the physical elements of “hindering” could be reasonably established.

  6. Fueldrum


    Here is the relevant section.

    Offence to hinder etc. an investigation
    (1) A person is guilty of an offence if:
    (a) the person engages in conduct; and
    (b) the person is reckless as to whether the conduct will adversely affect an investigation:
    (i) that is being conducted at that time; or
    (ii) that could be conducted at a later time into an immediately reportable matter; and
    (c) the conduct has the result of adversely affecting such an investigation (whether or not the investigation had commenced at the time of the conduct); and
    (d) the conduct is not authorised by the Chief Commissioner.
    (5) In this section: “conduct” includes omission.

    Couldn’t be much clearer, really. Conduct includes omission. By omitting to provide the document, that omission had the effect of adversely affecting an investigation being conducted OR THAT COULD BE CONDUCTED AT A LATER TIME, (such as an investigation into the systemic or organisational issues), whoever withheld that document has “prima facie,” committed a serious criminal offence.

    This doesn’t provide any excuse for the ATSB, of course. But there is no need for “intent” to obstruct the investigation that is underway. CASA recklessly withholding information relevant to this or future investigations is itself an offence.

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