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CASA Media Release - Thursday, 12 April 2001

Ansett 767s grounded Transcript of press conference by Mick Toller - 12 April 2001

Ansett Australia's fleet of ten 767 aircraft have been grounded indefinitely by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

This follows repeated failures by Ansett to properly maintain the aircraft to Australia's high aviation safety standards.

The aircraft will be grounded tonight when a formal notice is issued to Ansett.

The 767 fleet will not be allowed to fly again until CASA is satisfied the aircraft meet all relevant safety standards.

CASA will undertake a special safety check on the 767s, inspecting the aircraft and auditing recent maintenance work. These checks will begin over the Easter weekend.

CASA will also issue Ansett with a notice on Friday 20 April giving the airline 14 days to show why its approval to operate should not be withdrawn.

This notice is based on a pattern of ongoing structural, management and personnel problems.

Ansett will be required to prove to CASA that major changes to structure, management and personnel can be urgently implemented.

CASA will require detailed proposals from Ansett for reforms to their maintenance areas, particularly the section of the organisation that controls maintenance.

It is clear there has been a lack of proper control over the planning of maintenance, over the control of critical documents and the execution of maintenance.

CASA's Director of Aviation Safety, Mick Toller, says CASA could no longer accept Ansett's assurances that the safety of 767s could be maintained.

"Safety problems with the 767 fleet keep appearing, the latest having been brought to CASA's attention just this morning," Mr Toller says.

"This latest problem involved the incorrect stowing of emergency slides on a 767 last weekend.

"The aircraft operated for more than a day without any of its slides in the operating position. Clearly, this was yet another threat to safety."

Media contact

Peter Gibson ph 02 6217 1015 mobile 0419 296 446 Ref: MR0017

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Press Conference transcript - Thursday, 12 April 2001

Ansett 767 fleet grounded Mick Toller Good afternoon everybody.

Being in charge as I am of Aviation safety and safety matters on behalf of the Government and the travelling public is a difficult job and sometimes brings you some difficult decisions.

It's a risk management job. What's happened today is that effectively we've got the last straw in a series of issues that have bedevilled Ansett.

I received a report this morning of an Ansett aircraft that had been flying for eight flights with the passenger escape slides not working, not armed, as a result of a maintenance error last weekend in the hangar.

That was on Saturday night. It flew through Sunday, and the error was picked up on Monday morning and resolved.

As I say, this - in fact it's one more issue in Ansett's 767 maintenance tale of woes and for me I'm afraid it's the last straw.

As such, we have informed Ansett that their 767 fleet is grounded as of 10 o'clock tonight.

The reason for this is to allow CASA as the authority itself to satisfy our selves that the correct maintenance has been done on that aircraft, and that those aircraft are in fact genuinely airworthy and fit to fly.

Now that's a process that will start tonight. It's a process that will take I don't know how long because it depends on what we find. It's going to be a matter of looking at all the paperwork. It's a matter of looking at what maintenance should have been done, what maintenance has been done. It's also a matter of physically looking at the aircraft to ensure that the maintenance that should have been has been done.

It's a big task. I have to say that. And we're talking about the whole of the Ansett 767 fleet.

Now additional to that on Friday of next week, that's Friday the 20th of April, we will be serving on Ansett 14 days notice to give us reasons why their certificates should not be cancelled.

Now that's a process that exists. It's a normal process, but what we're saying to them is on Monday I said to you, look, in three months time we want to be hearing

from Ansett that all the problems that have been resolved, of all the problems that we discovered as a result of the Christmas grounding of the 767s and the Easter grounding of the 767s have been resolved.

What I've effectively done is to raise the ante on that. I've said we want those answers in three weeks and not in three months, and they've got to be very solid answers or Ansett is out of business.

Now the pressure is now on Ansett to answer those criticisms that have been made. We believe they have significant weaknesses in their management processes and their organisational structure. A lot of work has been done since Christmas to start to resolve those issues, however we believe there is still a lot more that needs to be done, particularly in their management of maintenance, and we'll be looking for some pretty strong and pretty solid answers from Gary Toomey by three weeks from now.

I think that's all that we have to say as a statement.

Open to questions.

Question Mr Toller, how many people do you believe this will affect and has Ansett given you any indication that they'll be able to shuffle their flights around to help out travellers over Easter?

Mick Toller We haven't actually discussed with Ansett anything other than the safety implications of what's happening today.

They obviously have commercial problems which they will have to resolve. Easter is a busy time for them. That said, today is probably the busiest day and to a certain extent therefore they've got a little bit of relief but they will have to be doing a lot of work to ensure that they cover their passengers requirements over the coming days.

Question How angry are you with the airline for letting it get to this stage?

Mick Toller Managing an airline is a difficult process. My responsibility as the guardian of aviation safety is to ensure that that is done correctly. It always disappoints me when we get weaknesses within the system and breakdowns within the system. They are inevitable in any system.

I just, as I said earlier, this is the last straw. It's a matter of you put up with so much and so much and so much, you listen to the answers and you accept the answers where they're reasonable but eventually you turn around and you say, this much and no more.

Question So on that basis if CASA regulates safety how much responsibility to you?

Mick Toller

CASA's responsibility for safety is a critical one. That's why we're acting today in the way that we're acting and that's why we've been working with Ansett very closely. It's why we grounded the 767s on two occasions already. This is the hat trick. It's not a hat trick that anybody can be proud of, but I think it is the only satisfactory way to ensure that this is resolved and that the travelling public does have assurance of a totally safe system.

Question Do you regret not keeping a closer eye on the airline over the past year?

Mick Toller WeÕve been keeping a very close eye on Ansett over the past year, and these things develop. This is, if you like, one more action as I say, a lot of work has been done to put right things that were found that were wrong last year.

My belief is that Ansett have done a lot of good work in the last year, but this is just one more indication of a maintenance problem and I'm not prepared to put up with any more.

Question (Inaudible)

Mick Toller Sorry, can we have one at a time. I know it's going to be difficult (Inaudible) Question When was the last time this happened to a major airline.

Mick Toller This is difficult because it depends what you describe as a major airline. We're actually handing out a similar notice to another jet operator in Australia - Flight West Airlines - today of a similar nature, so there are actually two airlines that are under the microscope at the moment.

But it is, in terms of this particular form of notice I'm not aware of one previously being handed out to one of the Ansetts and Quantases and TAAs in the history of Australian (Inaudible) Question Mr Toller, why has this taken until so late on a Thursday before Easter for CASA to take this action?

Mick Toller As I said, the last straw to me was the notification of the incident as a result of the aircraft maintenance being (Inaudible) Question

When did you get that?

Mick Toller I got that at 8.30 this morning. I can assure you that we haven't stopped being in meetings and discussing this whole matter and working through the various options and implications throughout the whole day.

It's a very serious decision. It's one where you have to make sure that you are right. It's very easy to make an emotional decision. You have to actually stand back and say apart from its seeming like the right decision, actually is the evidence there to support this decision.

I am now comfortable, as I was in fact all day, but you still have to go through the process, I am comfortable that the decision that has been taken today is absolutely the best decision that can be made. It is the right decision. It is the decision that is most likely to give public confidence in the future of aviation in Australia even though it's in some ways a step backwards within that process.

Question Then why wait until 10 O'clock tonight. There's other 767s in the air as we speak, I assume, if they're not being grounded until 10 o'clock tonight.

Mick Toller There has to be due process. I have to serve an actual legal instrument on Ansett to (Inaudible)

Question But what about the safety issue at hand?

Mick Toller I have to serve a legal instrument on Ansett to actually bring this into legal effect. We could have got them to voluntarily ground the aircraft. I think it's more the fact that it's not that I believe that the aircraft are unsafe - I don't think a wing is going to fall of, I actually don't think an engine is going to fall off, but what I cannot say is that I am convinced the aircraft are totally safe, that the maintenance procedures that should have been done have been done.

We've got to draw the line somewhere, and say, hey, let's look at all of this. Let's start again and look at all the paperwork. Let's look at what's been done to the aircraft. Let's look at who's done that work. It really could have been done at 3 o'clock this afternoon, but I don't think it makes a significance whether it's 3 o'clock or 10 o'clock. The advantage of this of course is that it moves the majority of the people today and I think, you know, that that is an issue.

I believe it does it without prejudicing their safety but equally I think it is of critical import that at some stage we draw the line and say these aircraft are on the ground until we are sure that the work that you've done has been done; the work that should have been done has been done; the work that you've done has been done correctly, and actually we have to make sure that because we no longer trust the assurances that we've been getting from you in light of the continuing, some of them quite minor, but continuing small 767s maintenance issues that come our way.

Question Have you got legal advice though isn't it that it's happening at 10 o'clock tonight. I mean as you say, the majority of people have flown today, it's a commercially convenient decision for Ansett because it's going to be quiet over the next few days?

Mick Toller

This is a safety decision but it's not an urgent immediate safety decision. I could have said Monday morning. I could have said Tuesday morning.

Question What's the difference between a safety decision and an urgent safety decision though? If you're going to ground them at 10, why not ground them now. If they have to be grounded why let them go for another six hours?

Mick Toller There has to be due process. I have to serve them with a legal instrument. This is just the law. It's natural justice. It's a safety decision, and with any safety decision there still have to be a natural justice process. That natural justice process says that I have to actually not only make that decision. I've got to document though reasons why I made that decision. That's quite a big job. It's being done at the moment, it will keep going through until I sign that piece of paper, the second I sign that piece of paper it will be handed to Ansett.

Question (Inaudible) in the rest of the fleet that's going to be flying over the weekend?

Mick Toller We have serious concerns about the 767s. You know, the 767s are old aeroplanes, we know that. All the incidents that have been reported to us have been 767 incidents. So as such I have no reason for any greater concern about Ansett's other fleets than I do say about Qantas or Kendell, or Virgin, or Impulse or any of the others.

Tonight - we've already this afternoon put in a strong audit team into the Ansett maintenance area. They'll work through the Easter break. You can rest assured that if they were to find anything at any time which had an impact on any of the other fleets then we would act immediately.

But the evidence on which we have based the action that we've taken is all related to the 767s.

Question Mr Toller, you've been seeking legal advice (Inaudible) Question (Inaudible). these recommendations this afternoon that CASA should have taken

more responsibility regarding service bulletin. Have you heard about these recommendations that the [inaudible] put out?

Mick Toller I have, yes. No, the wording of the recommendation is fairly complex and fairly woolly.

The situation with the service bulletin is that it is put out by the airline - sorry, put out by the aircraft manufacturer to the airline. If it is considered to be an urgent safety issue then it is mandatory, made mandatory by one of the authorities and then it becomes an air worthiness directive.

The authority that has to take the prime responsibility for that is the authority of

the country in which that aircraft has been built because they are the people have been involved throughout with the test flying, they've been involved with the design of the aircraft and they're the people who know the intricate details of that aircraft, and in order to make a decision to make it stronger, they're the people who have to make that decision.

The recommendation to us I think effectively is that we should be saying in some cases we need to make sure that the Americans and the French or whoever have the responsibility are sure that they're doing the right thing.

In other cases where it's just not been made mandatory they're suggesting that we ensure that the airlines are still doing it.

We will look at that process. We haven't had time to consider the implications of that process. I think it's really saying there has to be a report back processed to us of what's been done by the airlines to assure us that they are doing what needs to be done.

Question Does your legal advice say that you can actually ground the entire fleet if they don't show you within two weeks of Friday week that they should be allowed to continue flying?

Mick Toller I have the power to remove their Air Operators Certificate which is the thing that keeps them going at any time effectively that I am not, that I believe that there's an immediate safety risk.

Question Did you confirm that today with legal advice?

Mick Toller This is not an unusual situation. We're dealing here with a big airline but we're actually dealing with not quite our day to day business but the sort of thing that we do on a monthly basis. There is nothing particularly unusual about this. We are treating Ansett exactly like any other airline that we take action against.

Question And what, will that be a CASA Board decision if on the two weeks after the 20th that the Board would gather and made that decision then?

Mick Toller No the Board is (Inaudible) made it very clear to me that this is an operational matter and as an operational decision then it belongs to me as the Director and the Chief Executive.

Question And you alone are the one that would make that call?

Mick Toller I will make the call but I will obviously make sure that the Board is fully briefed.

The Board has been meeting in Canberra to day. They have been upstairs while this has been going on. That was coincidental. They have been fully briefed on

what's happened today and they have given their full and unanimous support to the action that I have taken today.

Question What discussions have you had with Ansett today?

Mick Toller I have been talking on a number of occasions with Gary Toomey, their Chief Executive. I think that he's been very aware of what's been going on. We gave him the opportunity, if you like, to convince us that what we were proposing was wrong or was unreasonable.

Although he put a very strong case on a number of matters it was not strong enough in my view to say do not take this action.

Question What was his reaction when you said you were going to ground all the 767s?

Mick Toller I think it's safe to say that Ansett are disappointed. They're obviously concerned. I would have to say that all the discussions that I have had with Gary Toomey today have been very sensible (Inaudible) Question


Mick Toller They've been extremely cordial. I would say that it almost seemed that from the time that we got that information this morning they obviously got the same information at the executive level that there was probably a sense of resignation about the inevitability about the way that things would proceed.

Question What about Mr Anderson. What has he been saying to you?

Mick Toller The Minister is in China, as you very well know. The Minister has spoken to me on a number of occasions today. He has made it clear that the decision that we make should be based on fairness, consistency, and totally and only on safety issues.

Having been told what the decision was he has said that he gives it his full support and backing and that as, you know, as the professional body in charge of aviation safety he totally respects our judgement on this matter.

Question Mr Toller, what other penalties might Ansett face and are there any repercussions for Air New Zealand in this as well?

Mick Toller The repercussions for Air New Zealand would be a complex question because they're the owner of Ansett.

I mean they're about to have, you know, sort of one of their subsidiary airlines

under - I was talking about having them under the spotlight at my press conference earlier this week. This is a bit more than a spotlight now. This is - the flame is very well alight underneath them at the moment.

In terms of Air New Zealand's operations they're entirely the responsibility of the New Zealand government and my counterparts in New Zealand the New Zealand CAA.

I have not spoken to the New Zealand CAA because I don't think this is an issue that necessarily involves them at the moment. This is an internal issue for CASA, for Ansett, for Australian registered aircraft, and for the Australian travelling public.

Question Will you let in aircraft from overseas to supplement their operations?

Mick Toller There is a process whereby we can permit them to bring in an aircraft. They have already applied as a result of the earlier grounding this week to bring in an Air New Zealand 767, and we have given permission for that aircraft to operate in Australia for seven days, and that's in accordance with the provision Section 27A of the Civil Aviation Act if you want to look it up but that provision exists.

That provision exists also for them to approach us to bring in other aircraft and the other issue of what is known as cabotage of foreign airlines operating between say Sydney and Melbourne being allowed to carry passengers is something that the Department of Transport is currently looking at.

It's been done in the past. There is no legal reason and no safety reason from our point of view why it can't be done again.

Question You mention Ansett believed this was almost inevitable this afternoon. Do you believe that they can convince you by the 4th of May that their entire shouldn't be grounded?

Mick Toller I can't answer that. They've got a lot of work to do. I think they understand that they've got a lot of work to do.

Equally of course they have done some of that work already. You know, some of the changes that were needed in their management structure have already been put in place. There's some big ones still to be made. We've given them some hints, but the onus is totally on them to convince us.

Question The Transport Safety Bureau, [inaudible] seems to say here that your [inaudible] processes aren't vigorous enough, that you should rely less on overseas advice and just, you know, look at us as a country and what needs to be done. So how much of this is CASA's fault?

Mick Toller The issue of the Transport Safety Bureau is one that really I haven't had time to

look at today. You know, they rang us late last night to say they wanted to talk to us at midday today, so we really haven't had a chance in view of everything that's going on with Ansett to look at actually what the ATSB says.

That's my job for the coming hours, for the rest of today.

My belief strongly is that there is a world wide system and that world wide system works. We're a part of that system and we're a natural part of that system and to add to it, or to change it, you would have to reflect fairly carefully on what you're doing and what you're doing it and have good reason to do it.

It could prove incredibly expensive to airlines, for actually no safety gain, and before we commit ourselves to any changes in this area whatsoever we want to look very carefully at what the reasons that the ATSB are putting forward are and whether they're valid.

You have to remember that we always look at matters from different views, and there's always some sort of conflicts because they do not have to take into account certain issues that we as the regulatory authority do in terms of cost benefit and things like this.

Question (Inaudible) recommendation just saying that you should be looking at all service bulletins, and assessing them for flight safety implications, shouldn't that be something you're already doing?

Mick Toller No, because the service bulletin is a service recommendation from the manufacturer to the airline (Inaudible) Question

Should you be keeping track of what manufacturers are telling airlines to do?

Mick Toller We receive the service bulletins, and, you know, always have done. Where necessary, as we've proved this week, we take action and turn those into an AD. We grounded the 767s this week when there was evidence that showed us there was reason to ground them.

As far as the service bulletin is concerned the onus is on the manufacturer - let's say Boeing, and the certificating authority, which in this case is the FAA, to do the main part of that assessment as to what the seriousness is because they're the people who know the aeroplane, they're the people who designed the aeroplane and test flew the aeroplane. It's a system that works well throughout the world. It's a normal system.

That's not to say that there aren't occasions like this where itÕs broken down. The reason it's broken is not necessarily because the system is wrong in terms of the authorities it's that an airline, in this case Ansett, had significant problems in itself, so point the finger therefore at technical services section of Ansett as to why on earth one man should be given the responsibility of making the decisions for Ansett rather than change the world system.

Question Have Ansett's safety procedures deteriorated dramatically in your view, Mr Toller, or is this the result of years of neglect?

Mick Toller I think we're seeing the result of an airline that's going through a difficult time. It's gone through a difficult time in terms of lack of leadership. It went for nine months without a chief executive. It's known that it had business improvements that desperately needed to be made. It's known that it's got major capital investment issues in terms of getting rid of the old aircraft, and particularly the 767s and replacing them with newer aircraft.

When any organisation is under that sort of stress then there is a potential for problem. As a result of that we have significantly increased our attention on Ansett over the past year as we recognised that stress increasing.

Question So you believe it all started to go wrong about twelve months ago?

Mick Toller I think - it's hard to put an exact date on it because this is also your look back in history but it's sometime in the last twelve to eighteen months probably, yes.

Question You've put in a new you beaut auditing system that you've been telling the Senate committees all about, a sort of systemic safety net type of auditing system. Has it failed? Has it taken so long, and that such uncertainty has been hanging over Ansett for so many months?

Mick Toller No, I think actually the new systemic auditing system has actually found things about Ansett in the last months that we would never have found under the old system. And it also strongly has shown us where the weaknesses are in Ansett's management systems. And therefore we were able to show Ansett and this was equally true of Qantas last year, what changes needed to be made in order to put it right.

Qantas reacted to those very strongly and very positively, and we are definitely seeing the increased safety effect within Qantas of these processes last year.

So our view is that it's a good system. It works and we're getting the evidence that it works.

Media contact Peter Gibson ph 02 6217 1015 mobile 0419 296 446