CASA HQ in Canberra, the scene of a cultural revolution?

The future tenure of the heads of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulator (CASA), its director of air safety John McCormick, and the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) Martin Dolan should be in question after the release today of the Aviation Safety Regulation Review.

The review was commissioned by the deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Warren Truss in November 2013 following a Coalition commitment during last year’s Federal election campaign.

It recommends what could be described as a profound cultural change in CASA and steps to end the discord and make it an effective regulator, and provides many reasons to remove McCormick from further involvement in the safety regulator immediately, rather than in August when his term expires, and by when regulatory reforms that he was charged to make in CASA were to have been finalised.

It is critical in a detailed and clinical manner of the current culture in CASA and its relations with aviation stakeholders.

The review, chaired by David Forsyth described the botched Pel-Air crash investigation by the ATSB as ‘an aberration’.

Given the ATSB chief commissioner’s unequivocal defence of that report, and its standards, and his resolute refusal to  even retrieve the flight data recorder from the crash site in the sea near Norfolk Island, and the claims that it was seriously unfair to the pilot, and failed Australia’s international air accident reporting obligations, Mr Dolan should go. This afternoon if possible.

An illustration from the 'aberrant' and disgraceful Pel-Air report

A Senate inquiry into the ATSB report found Mr Dolan’s testimony under oath  was so unsatisfactory that the committee devoted a chapter of its findings to its rejection of his  evidence. It also heard the director of aviation safety at CASA, Mr McCormick, admit to withholding from the ATSB (contrary to the intent of Australian law), an internal review into the Pel-Air matters which found that had CASA actually carried out its duties of oversight of the operator, the crash might have been avoided.

These were very serious disclosures that went to the heart of the integrity and quality of the public administration of air safety in this country, although they were brushed off by the previous Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese.

This is what the ASRR says in its report in relation to Pel-Air.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has been heavily criticised in Australia for its report into the 2009 ditching of a Pel-Air Westwind off Norfolk Island. Canada’s Transportation Safety Board is completing a review of the ATSB and will report shortly. The Panel considers that the Pel-Air report was an aberration, and not typical of the high standard that the ATSB usually attains.

The Panel recognises that the ATSB is putting measures in place to prevent a re-occurrence. To improve the ATSB’s governance, the Panel recommends that an additional Commissioner be appointed, with extensive aviation experience.

The panel recommends a totally different non-punitive and more collaborative relationship between CASA and the aviation industry.

The current relationship between industry and the regulator is cause for concern. In recent years, the regulator has adopted an across the board hard-line philosophy, which in the Panel’s view, is not appropriate for an advanced aviation nation such as Australia. As a result, relationships between industry and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) have, in many cases, become adversarial.

It specifically recommends different qualities in the new Director of Aviation Safety who will replace Mr McCormick, which on any reasonable reading, makes his continued participation in the affairs of CASA unnecessary, since the review repudiates CASA’s current culture and direction.

The Panel concludes that CASA and industry need to build an effective collaborative relationship on a foundation of mutual trust and respect.

Therefore, CASA needs to set a new strategic direction. The selection of a new Director of Aviation Safety should concentrate on finding an individual with leadership and change management abilities, rather than primarily aviation expertise.

If the government is to implement the recommendations of the ASRR it will need to remove Mr Dolan from the ATSB and McMcCormick from any further engagement with CASA.

The ASRR deals with a wide range of issues that are of detailed interest to private pilots, the general aviation industry, the fair and impartial administration of medical checks, and right up to the level of scheduled large aircraft and airline operations, and suggests minimising the number of special rules that occur in safety administration in this country.

It will undoubtedly cause controversies that will not and should not get general media attention, but it reads like a circuit breaker for putting aviation on a sounder, less vindictive, less punitive, and less ineffective footing than has been the case for a very long time.

The executive summary can be downloaded here, and the full report, here.

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