AIN Blog: A Breath of Fresh Air From a Regulator

 - September 29, 2011, 9:58 AM
The director of Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority pledges to listen
The director of Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority pledges to listen to the agency's constituents. (Photo: Ohmega1982)

Although I get the impression that air safety in Australia is micromanaged, I admire John McCormick, director of aviation safety for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Maybe’s it’s because McCormick bluntly addresses CASA’s role and that he makes an effort to communicate regularly with CASA’s constituents. But it is also his willingness to confront change and consider new options.

In CASA’s latest monthly briefing, McCormick reminds Australian aviators “that CASA is not in partnership with the industry. CASA is an independent regulator and will remain so. In my speech [to the Regional Aviation Association of Australia’s annual convention] I said what the industry should expect from CASA is not sympathy, but empathy. We will genuinely understand your views, your needs and your expectations. We may not always agree with you, but I guarantee we will listen to you, and that your concerns will be taken into account.”

This is a refreshing attitude. In the U.S., we think that the FAA should partner with the aviation industry and that the success or failure of aviation businesses depends a great deal on whether the FAA facilitates our missions. At the same time, we bemoan the FAA’s inability to adapt the regulatory framework to modern technology and to figure out how to improve safety using new and different techniques.

McCormick clearly delineates his agency’s territory and purpose. He then goes on to explain that CASA will examine some regulatory practices to see if they make sense. These include “proposed pilot licensing requirements, the need to hold an air operator’s certificate for certain kinds of operations and the obligation for smaller organizations to maintain drug and alcohol management plans.”

When was the last time the FAA ever looked over its rules and processes and decided that some didn’t make sense? In fact, the FAA consistently tightens the regulatory screws every time it decides to–in McCormick’s words–“examine regulatory practices.” And when the FAA does come up with what seems like a new way of regulating, it turns around and finds a way to take back what the new rules specifically allowed.

A case in point is the Light Sport Aviation (LSA) regulations, which created an entire new category of small aircraft and a lower barrier to entry for new pilots and new manufacturers. A key element of the LSA rules is that pilots need only have a valid drivers license to prove medical fitness to fly. Yet when the rules came out, and someone pointed out to the FAA that a regular pilot who is refused medical certification could still fly an LSA, the FAA backtracked and claimed that it didn’t mean that at all. Suddenly, and despite the fact that nowhere was this codified in the LSA rulemaking, any pilot rejected for a medical certificate was automatically denied the privilege of flying LSAs using his or her drivers license for medical qualification. (The fact that the FAA has no scientific proof of the benefits of medical certification is another story.)

Would CASA’s McCormick have done the same in Australia? I like to think that he and his team would have been more forthcoming and addressed that issue before the rules came out. But if not, maybe he would have issued a monthly briefing in which he reminded Australian aviators that he appreciates their concern and that CASA made a mistake and will rewrite the rules clearly and correctly.