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Minister defends user-pay system in aviation.

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PETER CAVE: We've been joined now by the Federal Transport Minister, Mark Vaile, and to speak to him Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Vaile, firstly, Peter Patroni says that the last year's been disastrous for aviation safety, that the user-pay system is legal but not safe.  Do you share his concern?


MARK VAILE:  Well, no I don't.  I think that you'll find that the new board of CASA, which has only been there for the last six months, is making major moves forward in terms of aviation safety in Australia.  We should get this in perspective:  in the last 12 months or so, there's been 26 - prior to this accident - 26 recorded fatalities from aviation accidents compared to about 2,000 people on the road.  Now, the record shows that Australia has one of the best aviation safety records in the world.  Now, there are some particular circumstances that surround this accident that CASA and BASI will certainly get to the bottom of.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But it could hardly be safe, though, if pilots … only half the pilots are using radio contacts and for the rest of them, pilots have to look around them in the air to see whether there are any other planes flying around them.


MARK VAILE: Well, I listened to some of the previous interviews, and the point to be made here is that I don't know of any other country in the world where you have air space where there is mandated transponders in that air space, and the previous interviewees were talking about Class-E air space.  We've mandated transponders in that air space. Below that air space, right around the world, the same situation exists as far as 'see and avoid'.  But just remember that this accident that has generated a lot of current comment wasn't a crash between two planes, it was a plane that came out of the sky.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think it's time to re-think the user-pay system?


MARK VAILE: Well, the thing is, what we want to do is to ensure that the safety regulator is monitoring and ensuring that the fare-paying passenger can board a plane and be assured that they're going to arrive at the other end.  That's the primary concern and the primary responsibility. 


Now, the current board is in the process of doing that;  in ensuring that.  We've got a big staff in CASA in Canberra;  a lot of those people may need to be more out in the field looking at aircraft and ensuring that the safety of the fare-paying passenger is the number one priority.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: There doesn't appear to be much confidence in the user-pay system.  Would you be willing to look at it in order to ensure that there is consumer confidence in the system?


MARK VAILE: The thing is that we've had to take a number of steps with regard to that system.  It's not a matter of user pays;  it's a matter of the regulatory controls.  And the regulatory safety controls in Australia are amongst the best in the world.  I mean, there's no stepping away from it.  I mean, we keep hearing about user pays and affordable safety - there's no such thing.  There are regulations there that are to be adhered to.  Now, what I want to find out, following this tragic accident on the weekend, is where that system broke down, particularly after CASA had removed the air-operating certificate from this air operator in May, and why it was given back subsequently.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So are you convinced at this stage, that the user-pay system is working and is safe?


MARK VAILE: Well, as an element of that, obviously the BASI inquiry into this particular accident, and also the CASA internal inquiry … and you might just bear in mind that BASI will also be looking at not just the crash site and what caused the crash, but also be looking back at the processes of safety regulation in this particular circumstance, going back to the lifting of the AOC back in May of this year.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Vaile, thanks very much for joining AM.


MARK VAILE: Thank you very much, Alexandra.