America’s FAA- its safety regulator and equivalent of Australia’s CASA- has proposed a fine of $US 547,500 be paid by Hawaiian Airlines for among other things ignoring advice that one of its 767-300s did not comply with an airworthiness directive by flying it a further 14 times after its record keeping error was discovered.
This persistent failure to comply with US safety laws might be explained by inadequate management skills, a basic failure to understand simple English, or arrogance, or an operational contempt for the safety rules. There is no acceptable excuse for what Hawaiian did. Hence the proposed penalty.
It wants to talk to the FAA about this issue in private. This is surely unacceptable. There is nothing private about the consequences of airlines ignoring their obligations to the safety rules and Hawaiian ought to seek a public hearing, so that it’s position can be better understood and its fitness to fly better assessed by members of the public before they find themselves inside its airliners.
Whatever the explanation, the buck in America stops with management, while in Australia, the notion of such transparency in air safety regulation has been anathema when it comes to actual practice in successive governments, including the current one.
Safety is run by department heads, and the managers of the safety authorities, and Ministers appear to shut up and do what they are told, which above all, is not to rock the boat, to mix a metaphor.
This attitude implies an Australian unwillingness to be responsive in the US manner to the public interest, which is that gratuitous or incompetent breaches of the aviation regulations should be punished, like they are when banking or investment fraud or misconduct comes to the attention of our financial regulators. (Oops, another bad metaphor.)
This is what the FAA says in its media statement.
LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a $547,500 Civil Penalty against Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. for operating a Boeing 767-300 that was not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.
The FAA alleges Hawaiian operated the aircraft thousands of times when it was not in compliance with a July 2000 Airworthiness Directive (AD) that required inspections of certain engine thrust reverser components. The purpose of the AD was to prevent a portion of the thrust reverser from coming off in flight, which could cause a rapid decompression of the aircraft.
The AD required initial and repetitive inspections of the components to detect damage and wear, and corrective actions if necessary. It required replacement of the components with new and improved parts within four years of the AD taking effect.
During a July 2012 inspection, the FAA discovered that some of Hawaiian’s records erroneously showed the AD did not apply to one of its Boeing 767 aircraft. The FAA alleges Hawaiian operated the aircraft more than 5,000 times – mostly on passenger carrying flights – between July 2004 and July 2012 when it was out of compliance with the AD. The FAA further alleges Hawaiian operated the aircraft on 14 passenger flights after the agency alerted the carrier that some of its records erroneously indicated that the AD did not apply to the aircraft.
Additionally, the FAA alleges Hawaiian failed to keep required records of the status of the AD for the aircraft in question.
Hawaiian has requested an informal conference with the FAA to discuss the matter.
The contrast with Australia is alarming. As the Pel-Air crash disclosures in the Senate and elsewhere have shown, our safety regulators are obsessed with confidentiality and cover ups, putting the notion that Australia is a country with robust and effective safety regulations into the realm of the ridiculous.
Pel-Air, Barry Hempel, and Transair, are key words which will yield legally privileged court documents and Hansard recorded proceedings that show that CASA has been a shamefully inefficient and indifferent organisation when it comes to safety administration which can’t even manage today urgent mechanical inspections in Cessnas in a timely manner never mind act in the public interest when known unsafe operations put lives at risk.
We have had a lot of words of contrition at the top of CASA when it has been cornered, but we haven’t had effective or timely action.
CASA doesn’t tell the public that dangerous airlines like defunct Transair are in fact known to be dangerous as a matter of policy. It ignored according to the Queensland coroner the evidence that Barry Hempel was unfit to fly paying members of the public on aerobatic joy rides. It has to be dragged into court, or before Senate committees, to tell things that the public should have been told before blood was spilt, not after.
Which is why examples like the proposed Hawaiian penalty are so important, because they tell us aviation administration in this country is fraught with the risks that come with secrecy in public life. The FAA regularly punishes in public US carriers that fail to adhere to the law. It’s a policy that was given lip service by former Coalition transport Minister John Anderson, but which he failed to deliver on. As have his successors also failed.
The risks of ministerial administrative capture need to be shut down in Australia, before they become the focus of a Royal Commission into a preventable disaster.
The current aviation administrative embarrassment for this government is Transport Minister Warren Truss’s otherwise welcome and commendable Aviation Safety Regulation Review. This review, which is due to report next month, has kept all of the supposedly public submissions made to it un-public by not following western democratic practice and making them accessible in a privileged place.
These submissions include a number that are not just severely critical of CASA, but come with detail and allegations.
This amounts to suppression by a Coalition government (which is in full and welcome pursuit of wrong doing in opposition and union ranks) of similarly serious disclosures about the conduct and effectiveness of Australia’s air safety regulator.
It is very poor optics, and it doesn’t serve the public right to be informed, in advance of the release of a review which will inevitably have its legitimacy criticised.