A near-unprecedented attack on the nation’s aviation safety authorities has been handed down by the Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport References Senate Committee following its enquiry into ‘Aviation Accident Investigations’.
The committee’s 153-page report, which was instigated by the release last August of the ATSB’s findings on the 2009 Pel-Air Westwind ditching off Norfolk Island, contained 26 recommendations that aim to address what the committee sees as deficiencies in the performance of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), and importantly, the relationship between them.
Contained in the summary of the committee’s findings is an overarching statement that sets the tone for a scathing attack on the safety regulator and the safety bureau:
“The findings of the ATSB’s investigation report are the starting point in untangling and addressing these questions. The ATSB’s firm position is that the ditching was a one-off event due predominantly to the actions of the pilot, and the agency has defended this stance without, in the committee’s view, a solid evidentiary base. Over the course of this inquiry the ATSB repeatedly deflected suggestions that significant deficiencies with both the operator, (identified in the CASA Special Audit of Pel-Air), and CASA’s oversight of Pel-Air, (identified in the Chambers Report), contributed to the accident. The committee takes a different view and believes that ATSB processes have become deficient… “
For industry, the committee report should signal relief, with recognition that undermining confidential reporting would be anathema to sustained safety improvement:
“It also emerged in the course of the inquiry that the previous system of mandatory and confidential incident reporting to the ATSB has been altered. Pilots have expressed concern that CASA now appears to have access to identifying information, which may inhibit pilots reporting incidents and will therefore undermine the important principle of just culture within the aviation industry.”
Robustly, it added: “The committee was understandably troubled by allegations that agencies whose role it is to protect and enhance aviation safety were acting in ways which could compromise that safety. It therefore resolved to take all appropriate action to investigate these allegations in order to assure itself, the industry and the travelling public that processes currently in place in CASA and the ATSB are working effectively.”
With specific reference to the Pel-Air incident, the committee appeared to effectively suspend the existing ATSB findings and has recommended the investigation be re-opened, supported by a review of the memorandum of understanding between the ATSB and CASA.
Read the full story and list of recommendations in the July issue of Australian Aviation.