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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
02/07/2008
Administration of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority

CHAIR —Welcome. I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions.

Mr Rodgers —Our recommendation is on behalf of our 3,000-odd members. We have made a number of recommendations to the inquiry. They include:

1. Re-establish a CASA Board to create improved governance—

I will allude to that later—

2. Provide a mix of safety and industry aviation expertise at Board level—

and we would like a cross-section of people on that board—

3. Board to oversight the CASA Industry Complaints Commissioner.

We find the complaints commissioner is in-house and is reportable to the deputy and chief CEO. We find that is not unbiased reporting. We also recommend:

4. Set firm deadlines to complete the CASA Regulatory Reform program.

5. Reduce CASA involvement in the ‘non-fare paying’ sector.

We are different to the previous gentlemen. They are in the fare paying sector; we are in the non-fare-paying, private GA sector. This is mainly made up of aircraft owners who are flying for their own private reasons. We also recommend:

6. Establish a Decision Review Tribunal reporting to the CEO and/or Board.

The board would be a cross-section of people with experience in aviation matters who would formulate that sort of program to the CEO. We have found over many years that CA have become very introverted in their thinking, reactive and not proactive. They react to things: they are not out there leading in the formulation of proper decisions in the industry. That probably has a lot to do with the burden, as my friend said previously, on the CEO. They have probably become reluctant to be out there making submissions on behalf of people like ourselves who have 3,000-odd members. We expect a response and we do not get responses.

Mr Blatch —Perhaps I could say at the outset that our submission may seem to be negative, but there are many CASA staff that we deal with who are knowledgeable and helpful, only needing direction and leadership—that is probably the thrust of our submission.

Senator O’BRIEN —So your last comment, Mr Blatch, is a criticism of the management.

Mr Blatch —Yes, it would be.

Senator O’BRIEN —Can you elaborate on that?

Mr Blatch —Probably in the sense it takes an inordinate length of time to get a response from CASA senior management and sometimes the responses we get are, shall we say, less than helpful. Whereas, when we deal with staff who are at the coalface, we find them to be very helpful. We get on and we get results.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Could you give us an example of that?

Mr Blatch —Yes, I could. For example, we have had a long-running query with CASA about its airworthiness directive on the Piper 32, on the wing spar. Our initial inquiry was in August 2006. We still have not had a response to date, and it has gone to the Industry Complaints Commissioner. We are waiting for a response to that. We have asked four questions and we keep getting put off by the acting chief executive officer. The four points we want answered are: did Piper test a wing at CASA’s request; is it correct that the wing did not fail; was the CASA subsequent finding on the airworthiness directive based on an analysis of a non-Piper wing; and does evidence exist of wing fatigue accident to Piper 32 aircraft in those countries that have not mandated compliance with this airworthiness directive? The short answer we have so far is, if we wish this to be investigated, we can apply and pay for it at about 40 hours of CASA time.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What is the Piper thing? Is it a high-wing aircraft?

Mr Blatch —No, it is a low-wing aircraft.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Like a Cherokee?

Mr Blatch —It is a Chieftain, I believe—a twin-engine.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Do you know the answer re the Chieftain?

Mr Rodgers —Yes, the bolt-in section of the Chieftain has a cross-through section bolt. There is a point of contention of failure, and that failure needed to be investigated. All we asked was that it go back to the manufacturer to test and make a recommendation. That is all we have been asking CASA to supply us with, and that has been going on for two years.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I accept what you say there but, if I had a Chieftain—and there must be a supplier or agency out here somewhere in Australia—wouldn’t you ring them up and say, ‘Son, can you ring up the mob over there that make these things and give us an answer on this?’

Mr Rodgers —It all has to go through CASA. They are the people who have to sign off on it. In your own interests you would do that, but then the AD is in place. It is very much like the media hype about the 3,000 grounded aircraft—which is, by the way, the workforce of GA in Australia.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Have Chieftains been grounded as a result?

Mr Rodgers —Chieftains got grounded and most of the aircraft had the same fuel servo. That was a heavy-handed approach. We tried for 24 hours to have that lifted because all of our members had aircraft out in remote areas of Australia. They are the workhorse into the mines and the outback stations. They are 10-seater aircraft. Most aircraft, all of a sudden, were grounded overnight by a heavy-handed approach. There was no industry consultation at all. All it needed was someone with some common sense to look at the fuel servo underneath that had a bolt. If the pilot did not have enough brains to look at that bolt, he should not be flying an aircraft. It lacks practicality.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But is that one of the problems today: that the pilot does not have that experience in a lot of cases?

Mr Rodgers —If he is pointed to the problem that has been identified as a failure, where—as has happened in America—it may have caused a fatality, that pilot could be looking on his own particular aircraft. He is the person who has to do the check. I am a pilot of 50 years—in private operations, but I certainly know how to look at plugs and any other point that is there. That could have been a simple thing to allow that aircraft to be uplifted from where it has been stopped to the nearest LAME—licensed aeronautical mechanical engineer—to check, but that is the heavy-handed approach that we object to.

CHAIR —Senator O’Brien does have the call but, before I go back to him, how much would it cost for 40 hours of CASA’s time?

Mr Rodgers —The normal charge-out rate for a LAME would be about $100 an hour.

CHAIR —I am asking you to answer regarding your request to CASA in writing for the last two years—the four questions whereby, if you wanted to pursue, it was going to cost 40 hours of CASA’s time. That is what you said, but do you have a dollar figure alongside that 40 hours?

Mr Blatch —The minimum CASA rate at the moment is $130 an hour.

CHAIR —We are in the wrong game!

Senator O’BRIEN —I do not know about that, Mr Chairman. The introduction of your submission talks about the climate in terms of financial pressures upon the sector and the nature of the different carriers in the sector. Do you think that the regulatory framework as administered by CASA is adequate to these times?

Mr Rodgers —I would have to say no.

Senator O’BRIEN —Can you elaborate as to what is needed compared to what exists now?

Mr Rodgers —I think what needs to happen now is a whole change to their focus and the way they do business with the general public. It is a user-pays system. In the early days of the Department of Civil Aviation, there was no user and no-one was paying. Today we pay for a service but we do not get it. A lot of people would not mind paying for a service if they got it. But all the complaints we get through the industry—from the LAMEs and all the other people—is that they are too slow to react; they are burdened by the way they themselves are functioning. I would give this analogy. Say you go to an RTA registry to re-register your car or truck. You know if you are re-registering a truck, it has to go through heavy haulage checking and you know within that time frame that certain things are going to happen. But CASA seem to be a law unto themselves and, as the years have gone on, they have become very reactive—they won’t deal; they are very vexatious.

I will give you an example of their being vexatious. With half of our 3,000-odd members I have certain issues that I have to bring up with the CEO. I made points on what these issues were in correspondence. And I got the reply that I was being vexatious and he had referred it to the complaints committee. I offered to sit down with him and give him actual examples of the complaints we have.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Could you table that letter?

Mr Rodgers —Yes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —And the response?

Mr Rodgers —Yes. We have the response here. I feel that we are just not working in harmony as a consultative group that should be interacting with the public. I heard what the previous gentleman said. We are experiencing the same problems. They are fare-paying and looking after their union, their airline. But we are the same; we are looking after all the private industries throughout the country. And this country will not get anywhere without private GA because of the workhorses that must go into these remote areas—the aerial ambulance services and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, for example. They are becoming a very heavy-handed organisation; they are bogging themselves down with their own inefficiencies.

Senator O’BRIEN —You are representing the charter sector?

Mr Rodgers —No. We represent GA, general aviation, and general aviation is charter—

Senator O’BRIEN —It includes charter.

Mr Rodgers —and private.

Senator O’BRIEN —You surely are not saying that the regulator should moderate its obligation to enforce and ensure safety to meet the wishes of participants in the industry?

Mr Rodgers —No, I am not saying that. Safety is and has always been paramount in our thinking. But safety goes hand in hand with proper efficiency and proper oversight and, at the moment, we are not getting proper oversight.

Senator O’BRIEN —And the nature of your complaint about the grounding was that it was done in such a way, without notice, as to impose unnecessary costs—is that what you are saying?

Mr Rodgers —Unnecessary costs. And in such haste that it was not thought through.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So that was not balanced by erring on the side of caution?

Mr Rodgers —Well, I can err on the side of caution by leaving my car in the garage and so never being hit by a bus.

Senator HEFFERNAN —And never getting out of bed.

Mr Rodgers —Yes. These aircraft were all over the country, in remote areas, and I was getting complaints 24 hours a day on my phone, and so was Mr Blatch. People were saying: ‘I am out here; it is going to cost me $5,000 or $6,000 to get someone out to check this bolt.’

Senator HEFFERNAN —So, if you had been running the show, what would you have done?

Mr Rodgers —I would have immediately found the problem out and looked at it, which we did, and then I would have called a conference with my staff and said: ‘Right. For those aircraft: make sure every pilot who is flying an aircraft now stops and identifies the problem. If it is leaking at the bolt position, it can’t go any further.’

Senator HEFFERNAN —This was the fuel bowl, was it?

Mr Rodgers —It was a fuel-flow server, which is like a fuel injection system. If it is leaking, it stops the fuel injection going to the heads and it leaks out the bottom. And any basic pilot would know what that meant by looking at it.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So I suppose if they could contact the pilot to ground the plane, they could contact the pilot to check the leak, couldn’t they?

Mr Rodgers —Exactly.

Senator NASH —Obviously, with that particular incident it is not just a matter of cost but of inconvenience, hardship, and goodness knows what else—with all those planes that are, as you say, workhorses, working out in regional and rural areas. It is not only the cost of being grounded; it is what they cannot do while they are on the ground.

Mr Rodgers —That is so, Senator. The complaint I was getting all the time was, ‘Can we do something about it?’ If I am accused of being vexatious by CASA, well, I am doing my job, because I was then asked to do something. We had our vice-president get straight on to the CEO; they did nothing. And then we went to the media about it.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So how long were they grounded for?

Mr Rodgers —We had them uplifted within 24 hours to get that aircraft taken to the nearest LAME, wherever we operated from, to get them checked.

Senator NASH —If you had not made a song and dance about it, how long do you reckon—and obviously this is subjective—they would have been on the ground?

Mr Rodgers —Depending on where the aircraft was, if it was out in the field, for example, that could have taken up to three, four or five days because that particular LAME might have had to look at other aircraft, and that aircraft would have been grounded.

Senator O’BRIEN —In this case, were CASA acting on a recommendation from the manufacturer or were they making their own response to a circumstance of which they had been advised?

Mr Blatch —I can answer that. They were acting in response to an FAA airworthiness directive that had been issued.

Senator O’BRIEN —What was the FAA directive?

Mr Blatch —Essentially, the same.

Senator O’BRIEN —To ground the aircraft?

Mr Blatch —Ground the aircraft. But the FAA does not have the same problem, we believe, that we do, where the aircraft are spread far and wide with very few LAMEs. In the USA, most of those aircraft would have been at a field where there would have been at least an AMP to look at the aircraft for them. Here, the aircraft would be at fields where there was no-one. And that was the thrust of our argument to CASA, which they eventually adopted: to point out the problem to the pilot and let the pilot look at it; if there was a problem with that particular plug, yes, the aircraft remained grounded; if there was not a problem with the plug, get it up and get it to a LAME where the full checks could be made. That was implemented later that day, after our pressure.

Senator O’BRIEN —So, presumably, that would not be conducting any commercial activity, that the flight between—

Mr Blatch —The relocation would not be commercial, no.

Senator O’BRIEN —With no passengers.

Mr Blatch —No passengers, just a repositioning of the aircraft.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Do you think everyone learnt a lesson out of that?

Mr Blatch —I would actually say they did, because subsequent to that we are now informed by CASA airworthiness staff when they are proposing to introduce an airworthiness directive, and we are actually being consulted. So I think we have all learnt from that.

Mr Rodgers —But there is a certain member of our board who is persona non grata with CASA.

CHAIR —Why?

Mr Rodgers —Because we have brought up certain issues over the years, like the spar problem with the Cessna, and the instructions to their lower level staff have been to not deal with that particular person.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But I do not see anything wrong or unusual about being a pain in the arse to people. I am a pain in the arse to half of Australia, it would seem. It does not worry me.

Mr Rodgers —If I could expand on that: there was an exchange of emails on those technical matters between our vice-president and the relevant CASA personnel and, towards the end of the day, Brian Hannan wrote an email saying: ‘Greg, you’ve probably had a mongrel day. It may be an opportunity to reflect on it, because it was preventable, and there’s worse to come if I have my way.’ That was taken personally and as a direct threat by the CASA staff, and subsequently the acting CEO dictated that no CASA staff were to correspond directly with our vice-president—which has somewhat hampered technical issues between our two organisations.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What did he say again?

Mr Blatch —Our VP?

Senator HEFFERNAN —Yes.

Mr Blatch —‘You’ve probably had a mongrel day. It may be an opportunity to reflect on it, because it was preventable, but there’s worse to come if I have my way.’ It went on to say: ‘AOPA is trying to deal in harmony but not if this keeps up. There will be an ABC crew knocking on yours or B1’s door weekly.’

CHAIR —So, has worse come?

Mr Blatch —Not yet, but we are not giving up. Where we find issues, we will keep publicising them.

Mr Rodgers —I think, Chair, too, if you go back to one of the other things, that I was accused of being vexatious, all we are looking to do is address the problems facing GA in this country. CASA seem to spend an inordinate amount of time with their prosecution section. You heard from the previous gentleman, from the airlines, the fare-paying people, that there have not been prosecutions launched against them for many years. But in private enterprise, in private GA, prosecutions are rampant. CASA’s prosecution section is out of control. I heard the previous speaker talk about the self-reporting: self-reporting is immune from prosecution by the fact that you own up to the fact that you may have made a mistake. I know of two instances where they have self-reported, and I have now been subpoenaed to appear in the Magistrates Court in Melbourne on those very matters.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So are these prosecutions done with in-house lawyers?

Mr Rodgers —Yes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —They have probably got to get work for the lawyers.

Mr Rodgers —Well, I would say they are trying to create a lot of work for them. A lot of the prosecutions will easily be defended, but that is a cost factor that costs everyone in industry. I have been subpoenaed by the particular person—

Senator HEFFERNAN —I would get rid of two out of three lawyers if I were in charge, mind you. Can I put it to you though that there is a tricky position here. I know a lot of blokes who are private aircraft owners and who do a lot of stuff themselves to save costs. I can think of someone, who I will not name, who has an airline at Narrandera who did things himself. So there is a sort of balance in all of this.

Mr Rodgers —I think there is a balance, but on the basis of people trying to earn a living out of, say, running a flying school—I will give you a classic example without mentioning names, because this case is pending. This particular operator operates a flying school in Victoria. He sacked his chief flying instructor. Guess where he went? He went and got a job at CASA. Then it became payback time. This particular individual filmed with a video camera at 5 o’clock in the morning, supposedly showing that the aircraft was on a charter flight and had taken off in fog. I have been flying for long enough to know that the pilot is the only one who can determine if you have 1.8 forward visibility through the cockpit to take off. This particular individual filmed him taking off and said it was done in fog conditions.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Anyhow, that is pending.

Mr Rodgers —That is pending, yes.

Senator HEFFERNAN —We should not progress that. I have to say that the other thing was a bit sooky. That would not have even lightly offended me.

Mr Rodgers —We need to move the industry forward overall and in service delivery. I would like to refer to the service delivery charter. When the CEO became CEO, he produced this fabulous document where everything was under a service delivery, you knew where you stood and there was a time frame. We have gone through that document. They have not lived up to that charter in any shape or form. We have had correspondence that is not answered or that is answered two years later or six months later. They are lacking in service delivery and I believe they are lacking in consultation with industry. They are a reactive organisation, not proactive.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So does what you tabled earlier have a two-year response time? Could we have an example of a two-year response time, if we have got one. Take it on notice.

Senator O’BRIEN —Going back to your submission, I want to ask you about the regulatory reform program. You say that CASA has missed deadlines. You say:

… a consequence of complexity and difficulty of revising the overly prescriptive interweaved regulations (and exemptions) into plain language. Effort spent rewriting regulations is resource not directed to safety coaching and/or audit of passenger operators …

So are you saying that there has been a waste of money by CASA in this regulatory reform program, without outcomes and with significant cost in financial terms and in terms of safety regulation?

Mr Rodgers —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —At any time has CASA discussed your view in that regard with you?

Mr Rodgers —No. All our staff and all our directors are there on a voluntary basis. We attend to most consultative groups, with even the RPT traffic and their groups and the defence group with respect to airspace and military airspace with civil aviation operations. In respect of the rewriting and reformulating of their regulations, we find it is overbearing. Some of it is contradictory. It is heavy-handed in the extreme for general aviation operation. I understand that RPT operations operate in a very restrictive formula. They operate under worldwide conditions, where that aircraft goes out of Australia, goes to the United States or Great Britain and operates within the same regulatory framework. Most of our GA operate within this country; we do not need that overbearing regulatory framework. We would hope to move towards self-administration for private GA. I think private GA can be better done with private administration.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Should there be another level of licence and operation that is based on the continent, rather than—

Mr Rodgers —Yes. Within the ICAO requirements, we could have a split licence to say that, if you do not want to fly overseas, you can operate within a self-administration environment and a regulatory environment under the audit provisions of CASA, very much as the recreational flying people do. They have their own self-administration but they do have an audit provision overseen by CASA.

CHAIR —Mr Rodgers, Senator O’Brien was asking questions in terms of your reference.

Senator O’BRIEN —From what you say about self-regulation, I guess it is a matter of opinion as to whether or not that is effective. What I was interested in pursuing with you is your suggestion that the regulator applies more effort to your sector than it does to the RPT sector.

Mr Rodgers —Undoubtedly.

Senator O’BRIEN —That is the impression that your organisation has. Could you give us something to substantiate that.

Mr Rodgers —Yes.

Mr Blatch —On page 6 of our submission under term of reference (3), our belief is that:

... CASA must shift focus more toward fare paying passengers, particularly areas of known risk (smaller Regular Public Transport/charter operations)—

rather than private operations. To that end, on page 3, at the bottom we have posted three questions which we believe this inquiry could well dig into because we cannot get the information now:

  • How many successful prosecutions and enforceable voluntary undertakings have occurred since 2003 in the two segments—airline/charter and ‘other’?
  • … what are the relative percentages dedicated to airline/charter and to ‘other’?
  • How many staff are dedicated to airline/charter audit at field level—

in those operations. If we go back to the AIPA people before us, as I said, there are no prosecutions at airline level but they are constant and rampant at private level. That is an indicator of where the resources are being used. We believe it should be focused the other way around.

CHAIR —Are these meaningful prosecutions or just time-wasting prosecutions? We have to establish the difference.

Mr Rodgers —Time wasting, 80 per cent of them.

Senator SIEWERT —On what basis do you make that assertion?

Mr Rodgers —By the success rating of getting prosecutions up. Most of them are based on assumptions, not on legal fact. They are very easily defended. I am going down this month on two matters and it is time wasting. I am not a lawyer but I think they will fail on their actions.

Senator NASH —Do you have concerns about the integrity of the Industry Complaints Commissioner? How do you see that that process can be improved?

Mr Rodgers —No, I do not. I think the structure is wrong there. The Industry Complaints Commissioner reports to the CEO. I feel it would be better if a board were in place that covered all sections of the industry and the commissioner reported to the board. I think a lot of the streamlining effect and the focus on where the resources would be better spent would happen better with a board because the CEO would be accountable to the board and the board would have input.

Senator NASH —With the way it works at the moment reporting to the CEO, who is the CEO accountable to in the decisions he makes?

Mr Rodgers —He is accountable to the minister.

Senator NASH —That is as I thought, only the minister. So a board would be a more appropriate way to do it.

Mr Rodgers —Yes, a more appropriate oversight.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Can I go back to meaningless prosecutions. Can you give us a snapshot, on notice, of what you consider to be meaningless. Every now and again I get booked driving. It does me good. Every time I drive past a speed camera I slow down. There would be a certain level of market signalling in prosecution which would be good for everyone, including pilots. I want to get an idea of what you call excessive time wasting.

Mr Rodgers —Without mentioning anything—it is probably past anyway—a particular aircraft landed in the United States on a ferry flight. It was being repositioned before it left Santa Barbara to fly to Australia. This particular aircraft had on board a very experienced pilot, a flying instructor, and it had a student pilot who was his student pilot here in Australia. The aircraft was operating on a VH registration, our national registration. It landed at an airport in the United States. It would be of no concern whatsoever for CASA for them to involve themselves in that. It came out in a civil matter here in Australia which arose because the particular person who was flying the aircraft never got paid for the ferry flight. The person who was trying to defend himself from having to pay for the ferry flight made a submission to CASA. CASA have launched a prosecution against that particular pilot for having a student pilot land the aircraft from the right-hand seat. The question of whether a pilot is required to assist a student pilot in a ferry flight to Australia is the responsibility of the pilot; it has nothing to do with CASA, but CASA have launched this action against him.

CHAIR —Mr Rodgers, we have gone well over time.

Mr Rodgers —Thank you, Chair and senators.

CHAIR —No, we are not throwing you out quite yet. Senator O’Brien has one very quick question, and then Senator Fisher will put one on notice that you do not have to answer—you can come back. Bear in mind that our reporting date is 9 July, so there is not a lot of time to come back.

Senator O’BRIEN —On the cost recovery process that CASA has undergone, you say in your submission that not only are you encountering that but that certain safety aids that were previously provided free are now subject to charge. Can you tell us what impact that has on aviation safety for your members?

Mr Blatch —The publication we are referring to is the Visual flight rules guide, which in its introduction is deemed to be an essential part of every pilot’s kit. It used to be handed out free. It is now available free on the internet, but if you wish to have a printed copy you have to pay $30 for it. Our point is that, if it is so important—and you cannot get internet on an aircraft to have a look at the relevant part while you are flying along—shouldn’t you have that in your flight bag? We believe it is very important.

Senator FISHER —Thank you, gentlemen. In the time available I have had a quick look at your submission and listened to your answers. In asking this question on notice, I should place it on the record that my father is an owner-operator of a private light aircraft. I have heard your concerns about the extent to which CASA is involving itself in the non-fare-paying passenger sector of the industry. Can you be clearer in saying what you think should be the alternative to the regulation of the non-fare-paying sector? How should that regulation be resourced, and who should pay for it?

Mr Rodgers —I can answer that.

Senator FISHER —You may wish to take it on notice.

CHAIR —It is actually on notice. I am sorry, Mr Rodgers. We really have gone over time. Please take that on notice.

Mr Rodgers —I am sorry. I can do that.

Senator FISHER —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Rodgers and Mr Blatch, for your assistance to the committee.

[11.19 am]