The structure of the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) will undergo a major overhaul as Minister for Transport and Regional Development John Anderson, who reports to the Parliament for its administration, responds to constant pressure from the aviation industry to improve the agency. However, the Australian industry is waiting to be convinced the new CASA structure will make it more efficient and accountable.
The changes, expected to be implemented in July, include the removal of CASA’s board of directors. The position of the director of aviation safety, now filled by former Cathay Pacific Airways management pilot Mick Toller, will be replaced by a CEO. It is unknown at this stage whether Toller will assume the new position.
The Minister will take over the duties of the CASA board, set policy and seek to enhance its efficiency, as well as improve the basis of consultation between the industry and the agency.
Minister Anderson will also introduce reforms to the CASA enforcement processes after a series of aviation businesses, some small family operations, were forced to close following alleged arbitrary action by CASA staff.
Under the proposed processes there will be a stay of suspension and cancellation decisions not involving an immediate risk to air safety. The suspension will enable the operator to appeal via a tribunal or court to determine if CASA acted appropriately.
Anderson, who described the proposed changes as “bold,” said, “Under the new enforcement regime CASA will retain the power to ground an operator where there is an immediate risk to safety, but it will be required to have its decision confirmed by the federal court within five days. This means that an operator will not be put out of business as it waits for a court or tribunal to determine whether CASA acted appropriately.”
Industry lobby groups are optimistic that the requirement for CASA to explain its decision adequately to a third party will require it to consider more carefully the reason for and implications of its decision when seeking an immediate grounding of an operator. But many small operators do not have adequate funds to obtain representation to fight decisions by CASA, which is able to appoint high-powered, expensive legal representatives.
Operators also complain that courts and appeals tribunals, which usually know nothing about aviation, are reluctant to move against a CASA decision when confronted with a chorus of technical allegations concerning actions by an operator that the authority claims could result in the death of customer passengers.
A demerit points system for minor breaches of regulation is also planned. This will be similar to that used in Australia against drivers for breaches of road law, where the allocation of a set amount of points for certain offenses will eventually cost a constant offender his driver’s license. However, lobby groups maintain that few details have been revealed about the new regulatory system.
The vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia, Bill Hamilton–a Qantas Boeing 747-400 captain and owner of an Aero Commander piston twin and a North American T-28 military trainer–is pessimistic the changes will improved treatment of the industry. “If you go to see the minister on an aviation matter, very often a senior CASA executive is at his elbow,” he said.
Complaints against CASA Staff
There has been a history of alleged unsatisfactory behavior by CASA staff, which was revealed during several public inquiries concerning regional airline fatal accidents. These include a close personal relationship between a CASA inspector and an operator that had been the subject of many complaints to the agency by former pilots and engineers involved in its operation.
In another hearing it was shown that there were instances of CASA employees’ approving what were later shown to be unsafe charter operations and regional airlines.
Operators also complain of a lack of aviation knowledge of many CASA officials, resulting in lengthy arguments about their rulings and consuming time that could be better spent administering and expanding their business.
Further, operators also said there is vindictiveness by some CASA officials. In a recent case, yet to be explained by the CASA head office, a field inspector carried out a series of ramp checks on a pilot and a skydiving aircraft. The checks were all carried out during one weekend afternoon and every time the aircraft landed.