Despite all the official cr*p spoken by the ATSB, CASA, and their discredited chief commissioner and former director of safety respectively, and the secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, and two successive ministers responsible for aviation, the Pel-Air flight recorder will be attempted to be recovered from the ditching location off Norfolk Island.
The re-opened inquiry into the accident, which seriously injured two people on a medical evacuation in a Westwind jet from Apia to Melbourne in November 2009 will also look at the operator’s oversight of those flights, as well as the regulatory oversight of the operations by CASA.
The ATSB has removed its much criticised final report into the crash from its website, and expects it could take up to 12 months for the re-opened inquiry to be completed.
The re-opening of this investigation is a crushing repudiation of the previous conduct of CASA and the ATSB in relation to this crash.
The ATSB statement on the removal of the existing final Pel-Air report and the re-opened investigation can be read here.
In context, it also coincides with the unexplained generosity of the owner of Pel-Air, REX, by way of political donations to the ALP and the Coalition in the later half of 2012, after the internal turmoil that was taking place in the ATSB over the sharp change of direction in its assessment of the safety issues involved in the ditching that was disclosed in the recent peer review by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada of its Australian counterpart’s handling of the investigation.
The fundamental premises of the final investigation process changed radically from those which the ATSB had identified earlier in its inquiries. The final report has been accussed of scapegoating the pilot while ignoring or discounting the issues of fatigue, lack of refuelling policy, poor pilot support, and defective or incomplete meteorological information, among others.
That attitude adjustment on the part of the ATSB under advice from CASA was the subject of lengthy examination by a Senate committee, which devoted an entire section of its final report into the ATSB’s final report into its lack of confidence in or respect for the testimony of the chief commissioner of the safety bureau, Martin Dolan.
The committee uncovered an internal CASA audit which revealed that Pel-Air had been in multiple breach of a range of safety requirements at the time of the crash in relation to its Westwind jet operations. That internal audit also found that had CASA discharged its duties of oversight over the operator, the accident might not have happened.
The internal document was suppressed by CASA and not made available to the ATSB, leading to a reference by the committee to the Federal Police as to whether or not the withholding of such information was a breach of the Transport Safety Investigation Act of 2003. Apparently this was too confronting a reference for the Federal Police to handle, as no official outcome has been forthcoming.
Today’s announcement makes specific reference to taking into account the concerns of the Senate committee, and other parties, which is remarkable considering the manner in which Labor’s minister responsible for aviation, Anthony Albanese, and the current Coalition minister and deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, have brushed off the concerns of the all party Senate committee.
It says “The re-opened investigation will review the evidence obtained during the original ATSB investigation, and the report of that investigation, in the light of any additional evidence and other relevant points raised in the TSB review and separate reviews by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee and through the Deputy Prime Minister’s Aviation Safety Regulation Review.”
The re-opened investigation raises additional questions, although it remains to be seen if the Government or Opposition has the intestinal fortitude to pursue all of them.
In terms of public expenditure, CASA is a very expensive federal authority. In relation to the oversight of air operators, the only conclusion that can be made from the Pel-Air fiasco is that it squandered millions of dollars failing to perform its most basic and important duties to the Australian public and the industry.
How the mess that is CASA and the ATSB today can be cleaned up, and genuine reform achieved, remains a questions that demands actual results, not more weasal words from both sides of politics.
Pel-Air could yet become the catalyst for this to happen.