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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Civil Aviation Safety Authority


CHAIR: I welcome Mr McCormick and officers from CASA—it is nice to see you in the daylight. I had better rephrase that—normally CASA are here very late into the night.

Senator EGGLESTON: As you will recall last time, I asked some questions about the cost of legal action that CASA has engaged in with Polar Aviation, a small aviation company in Port Hedland. You provided a written answer in response to those questions, and I have had a response from Clark Butson, who is the owner of Polar Aviation. In brief, he says that what CASA is suggesting—that it paid a total of $65,305 in legal fees since the audit that started this chain of events on 14 May 2006, now over eight years ago—is not a complete answer. He says that you correctly admitted there was a payment to Polar Aviation of $30,929 in your unsuccessful appeal in the Federal Court, which he says would bring the total up to $96,234 spent. He points out that there was a period of about two years when Blake Dawson, which is a national legal firm, represented CASA in this case, and their fees have not been included in your answer.

Overall, I am very interested in pursuing this matter because this has gone on for a long time and there are quite serious issues about the way CASA has engaged with Polar Aviation. I would like to know, first of all, how much CASA and the Commonwealth spent with Blake Dawson, as it was formerly known—it is now an international company, I believe, or joined an international firm—in legal proceedings involving Polar Aviation? Secondly, what is the total cost of legal expenses in the matter of Polar Aviation v Clark Butson and Polar Aviation, Clark Butson v CASA, to include: (a) all internal and external inputs with respect to legal representation in and out of court; (b) all legal costs engaged to represent CASA in this matter; and (c) what part Commsec has played to date and at what cost in this matter? I do not expect you to be able to provide these answers today so I will put them on notice.

Mr McCormick : The answer to question 25 on notice had the rolled up amounts for all our legal services in it. We will take those questions on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: If you would, because it is an important matter. This has gone on for a very long time. There seems to be some quite serious issues about the way CASA has treated Polar Aviation which raise—quite rightly—some issues of public concern about your methodology, the way you operate in dealing with some of these small airlines.

Mr McCormick : The issue with Mr Butson and Polar is, of course, that many times his actions have been struck out by the Federal Court and he has had to file an amended statement of claim on each occasion.

Senator EGGLESTON: His actions were struck out?

Mr McCormick : That is correct.

Senator EGGLESTON: He says that you have ignored Administrative Appeal Tribunal findings, ignored court findings and sought to prolong this case deliberately to exhaust his financial reserves. He says: 'CASA has in the past treated this matter with total contempt,' and, 'It is about time this nonsense stopped and that CASA was made properly accountable for their outrageous behaviour'. He has a different point of view to you, as I said at the last estimates hearings. I will pursue this matter on Mr Butson's behalf until we get some satisfactory answers.

Mr McCormick : Certainly. But I do reject most of what Mr Butson has said. In actual fact, CASA applied to have a strike-out application in the Federal Court on January 2011. On 30 September 2011 the court struck out the FASC, the further amended statement of claims, in its entirety. In summary, the court found the action as pleaded by Polar and Mr Butson either did not properly identify a known cause of action or is otherwise unsustainable.

Senator EGGLESTON: As I said, there is a huge difference of opinion about the way you have treated Polar and Polar's view of this matter. We will continue to raise these matters in this forum until there is some satisfactory resolution.

Mr McCormick : Certainly, Senator. Mr Butson has filed a notice of appeal to that decision and it was due to be heard approximately now.

Senator EGGLESTON: I believe that is coming up quite soon, on 21 May. He says that will cost him $50,000 in legal fees. I place these questions on notice and look forward to your reply.

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Eggleston. I beg indulgence from my committee members. There are only a couple of minutes, another eight minutes. Rather than putting the questions on notice, is there an opportunity to get answers from CASA now, rather than you all having to run away and do homework and then Senator Eggleston has to come back at the next round of estimates. Is that possible, Mr McCormick?

Senator EGGLESTON: I would have thought there was a certain amount of research needed, especially with respect to the costs with Blake Dawson, all the internal and external inputs with respect to legal representation in- and out-of-court and all legal costs engaged to represent CASA in this matter. That might take a bit of research. If answers can be given now, then of course they are quite acceptable.

Mr McCormick : As you say, the financial questions we will have to take on notice. If you have a specific question you wish to distil out of those ones, then perhaps we can answer it now.

Senator EGGLESTON: No, there is not because I am looking for specifics. I will put these questions on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: Mr McCormick, we heard evidence at an earlier inquiry that these people basically knocked up trying to get a result out of CASA when they raised a complaint about occupational health and safety. My question is: does CASA have a written protocol on handling complaints and queries regarding OH&S concerns raised by airline employees? I am happy to leave that on notice.

Mr McCormick : We will take that on notice; thank you.

Senator XENOPHON: Perhaps Mr McCormick can put me out of my misery—I hate asking these questions and I am sure you hate getting them. It is that little issue about what the protocols are within CASA for disclosing membership, or benefits such as membership of the chairman's lounge? Is there a protocol?

Mr McCormick : Yes, there is. It is declared at the board, as well.

Senator XENOPHON: It is not declared publicly?

Mr McCormick : As far as publicly putting it on the website, for instance, no; we do not put that information on the website. No-one has ever asked us to do so.

Senator XENOPHON: If you were asked to do so you do not think there would be an issue with those sorts of disclosures of interest, or disclosures?

Mr McCormick : I personally do not have a problem with that. We would have to check whatever other privacy provisions there are. I am not necessarily across all of the applicable law.

Senator XENOPHON: I will not take it much further. It is one of those issues I keep raising—

Mr McCormick : Yes, I think I realise that, Senator.

Senator XENOPHON: Could I go to the issue of air traffic control and Airservices Australia? Do you, Mr McCormick, as Director of Aviation Safety, have any concerns about what appears to be a significant increase in the number of breakdown of separation and loss of separation events?

Mr McCormick : Thank you for that question. Yes, we take those instances very seriously. We are currently awaiting a report from Airservices on their breakdown in separation incidents that have happened and also the report of the ATSB, which I believe will be released later in the year.

Senator XENOPHON: So you are concerned about the increase, or what appears to be an increase, in loss of separation and breakdown of separation events?

Mr McCormick : I believe the ATSB report is looking over a period of years at breakdown and loss of separation incidents. Yes, we take those very seriously.

Senator XENOPHON: Could I just go to the issue of organisations? You have a role to play—CASA plays a pivotal role—in terms of regulating airlines in this country, particularly those with an air operating certificate and high-capacity passenger aircraft. Do you take a similar approach to the way you would regulate or oversee Airservices Australia, given their pivotal role in terms of safety in the skies?

Mr McCormick : Yes; very much so. We conduct routine surveillance and audits of Airservices, particularly their certificate under CASR Part 172. At the moment we are conducting a top-to-bottom review of Airservices. We have started by interviewing the previous CEO. So we are starting at the top of the chain.

Senator XENOPHON: When did that start, Mr McCormick?

Mr McCormick : I do not have the actual date in front of me. I might be able to get it during the break.

Senator XENOPHON: Was it recently?

Mr McCormick : Yes, it is ongoing now. It is not because of any particular incident. It is just that we feel we need to get an overall view of the whole organisation which piecemeal audits may not necessarily do. They are not piecemeal by the way they are conducted, but because they are targeted at specific areas. We want to look holistically at the whole organisation.

Senator XENOPHON: This holistic look at Airservices Australia; is that the first holistic look at Airservices Australia that CASA has undertaken in recent years?

Mr McCormick : In my tenure, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: If I were to put to you that an Australian airline had a massive turnover of senior management over a relatively short period, would that trigger any alarm bells or any inquiries on the part of CASA in terms of the management of that airline, in the way it does its business?

Mr McCormick : They are issues very germane through various parts of the Civil Aviation Act that refer, particularly section 28. It was proven in the past with airlines when this happens—we invariably contact them straight away and we also say, 'You will have to give us the detailed plan of how you are doing this.' As all these airline operators do have a safety management system, we expect to see the outcome of their safety management system after they put their proposed changes through that process.

Senator XENOPHON: If you see senior management in an airline chopping and changing, people leaving, allegations of bullying and harassment; that would be something you would look at?

Mr McCormick : Allegations of harassment and bullying may not necessarily come to CASA. The changeover in personnel—senior personnel normally are nominated people somewhere in the organisation and therefore their replacement would have to be found suitable. In general terms, if there is a major restructure of an airline or a major change to the way it is being managed, then we do write to the airline and we do request them to give us the information I outlined.

Senator XENOPHON: I guess it is the response I expected, given CASA's role. So the final—

CHAIR: You have 30 seconds, Senator Xenophon.

Senator XENOPHON: I have 30 seconds. There has been a massive turnover in Airservices Australia in their staff. Airservices Australia, in their recent evidence, says 11 senior managers in the last few years. The information I have is actually much more than that. There might be some definitional issues as to who is doing what. Is that something you will be looking at with your review of Airservices Australia? I personally am quite disturbed at the huge turnover of senior management in Airservices Australia.

Mr McCormick : We will be looking at the adequacy of the management structure they have, in our opinion, and also the personnel that are there.

Senator XENOPHON: And the turnover?

Mr McCormick : We are cognisant of the fact as well though that it is an organisation that has a right to manage itself internally with its staff. If there is a large turnover then we would look to see if there was any generic issue; whether there is the same issue coming up, or why people have left. People come and go in these positions, as you know.

Senator XENOPHON: You would look at bullying and harassment claims in terms of a cultural issue that could affect safety?

Mr McCormick : We do not have a role to take bullying and harassment claims from a third-party organisation. There are other government entities that do that, including the Ombudsman.

Senator XENOPHON: But if there were adverse findings, would that worry you about the structure of that organisation?

Mr McCormick : If we were to find adverse findings about the structure of any organisation, then we do take them to task on that, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you, Mr McCormick.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Xenophon. Thank you, Mr McCormick. We will see you back at 2 o'clock.

Proceedings suspended from 1 3 : 0 0 to 14:02

Audio unavailable for the first 45 seconds of the session due to technical difficulties.

Mr McCormick : In respect of the other development at Archerfield, we have an ongoing investigation into that—an auction company, I believe. I would like to give you that information on notice, if I could, in the interests of time.

Senator FAWCETT: That brings me, I guess, to the point of MOS 139. Whilst it is around airfield design in particular, is the point that you have raised about intrusions into airspace for the benefit of the building or for the benefit of keeping the aeroplane safe?

Mr McCormick : Our focus is on keeping aircraft safe.

Senator FAWCETT: Could you describe for me the different classifications of airfield in Australia and CASA's responsibility in terms of safety at each of those different classifications?

Mr McCormick : Our classifications generally are either registered or certified. But I will ask Mr McGregor, who is our Acting Executive Manager, Airspace and Aerodrome Regulation, to perhaps enlighten you a little more.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr McGregor, did you hear the question?

Mr McGregor : Could I have it again, please?

Senator FAWCETT: I asked for a definition of the different categories of aerodromes and CASA's responsibility for operations at each of those aerodromes.

Mr McGregor : Basically, there are two categories which are regulated—that is, certified and registered aerodromes. CASA has an oversight audit program that deals with both.

Senator FAWCETT: And beyond that?

Mr McGregor : Beyond that? They are basically the areas of regulation—certified and registered aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: MOS 139 highlights that, if you are operating an airfield that is not certified or registered but you have air transport operations, and particularly aircraft that have nine or more seats, there are CASA oversight requirements on that. Do you think that is appropriate, given that it is not a licensed or registered airfield?

Mr McGregor : I must say that I am just answering in terms of the regulation of the aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: This is part of the regulation of aerodromes. It is in your manual?

Mr McGregor : Yes.

Mr McCormick : There are approximately 134 registered aerodromes and approximately 188 registered aerodromes. If there are RPT operations to an aerodrome that is not registered or certified—and I do not know at this stage whether there are, as you say, at nine seats or above—that would be surveilled under the approval of that air operator's certificate for the operator who is operating into that airfield. Of course, 139 does have requirements on the operator of the airfield, particularly in relation to runway widths, and those two items are somewhat separate.

Senator FAWCETT: Would you accept the fact that that is an application of the James Reason model of safety? Are you familiar with the James Reason model?

Mr McCormick : Yes, I am.

Senator FAWCETT: It is another element of safety and, while you predominantly regulate the aircraft and the aircrew, the environment that they operate in is also an important part of safety?

Mr McCormick : Most definitely so, and everything that hangs off that, from baggage services through to air traffic control services. What we are trying to do is look over the whole industry under the various heads of power that we have. Certain parts of the industry require more oversight than others. But we do have that ability and we are looking at the industry holistically.

Senator FAWCETT: I recognise that RAA aircraft are at arm's length and you have a very distant oversight of that; but do you have a direct responsibility for oversighting general aviation safety?

Mr McCormick : That is correct.

Senator FAWCETT: So, regardless of where an operator chooses to fly an aircraft, you would have a responsibility for having oversight for the safety of that aircraft and the operation?

Mr McCormick : When it comes to a broad statement, the answer is yes. When it comes to general aviation private operations of a person in their own aircraft, operating from their own airfield, say, that is on their own property, we tend not to have an area that we delve into in that respect. But our general view is, yes, we do. Some years ago, in 2009 and into 2010, we converted, as you are most probably aware, the GAAP airfields into class D airspace on the basis that we could have better oversight and better safety protection for the GA operators who predominantly use those airfields.

Senator FAWCETT: So if a GA operator is operating at an airfield and the owner of the airfield, who is not the operator—so it is not a private airfield—elects to build, for example, a water storage dam or reservoir which attracts birds right next to the runway, would that be considered a safety issue?

Mr McCormick : We certainly would look at that, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Where that has occurred, have you looked at that?

Mr McCormick : You would have to give me a specific example. I do not know of—

Senator FAWCETT: Casino?

Mr McCormick : Unless Mr McGregor has any specific information on Casino, I will have to take that on notice.

Senator FAWCETT: The question in part is: given your previous answers to this committee, that if an ALOP aerodrome is not registered or certified you are essentially hands off, what mechanism is in place for you to be able to have that influence and, as you put it, that head of power to intervene and, if needs be, direct the airport operator to rectify a dangerous situation? Or is it incumbent on the operator to then curtail his operations to remain safe in accordance with CASA's expectations?

Mr McCormick : There are a couple of examples of this. We have had GPS type approaches into airfields which were not certified or registered where we ran into this conflict. That is one of the reasons that we have maintained the oversight of the certified and registered airfields and require that as a minimum for someone who is going to have an instrument approach to their airfield.

We are very cognisant as well, though, that all regulation carries a cost. It carries a burden, in particular, on the general aviation sector. We are trying to get the maximum amount of safety oversight that we can without unnecessarily burdening them with economic cost. 'Unnecessarily' means that we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to every airfield that is not certified or not registered.

Senator FAWCETT: My question, though, is: what framework is in place? If an operator is concerned with something—one of those slices of Swiss cheese in the James Reason model—that is impacting his safety, what avenue do they have to come to you, as the regulator, and to have you enforce, from the government's perspective, the intent statement of the white paper on aviation, the NASAG intent statement, the terms of the lease or the deed that transferred ownership of airfields to local government?

Mr McCormick : Some of those matters, such as the NASAG and those other issues that you raise on the airfield operation or who owns the airfield et cetera, of course are matters of government policy and rightly fit with the department. Off-airfield development is a similar thing, where, again, CASA has a limited role to play. Whether we should have a larger role or not is not a question for me to decide; but, as far as our available powers go, there are numerous heads of power where people can come to us directly, or write to us or email us or whatever, and we will take the issue on its face value.

Senator FAWCETT: What I am hearing there is that there are examples where there is a legitimate safety concern and you do not currently have a head of power that will enable you to act.

Mr McCormick : I do not think that is correct. I think we do have adequate heads of power, except for the off-airfield development. We have section 92 of the Civil Aviation Regulations 1988, where we can give directions to airfield operators, and that is not restricted to certified and registered aerodromes.

Senator FAWCETT: So potentially you could get rid of a body of water that is attracting birds, but you may not be able to affect a situation in Victoria where somebody just off-airfield has planted trees deliberately at the end of a runway to encumber aircraft operations and require the runway to get shorter and shorter?

Mr McCormick : I think that is fair to say, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Chair, I will come back with some questions in a minute.

CHAIR: Senator Xenophon, would you like Senator Williams's time? You can have it.

Senator XENOPHON: I will use it. I might ask Mr Mrdak some questions, with the indulgence of the chair, in relation to the news yesterday with respect to the Qantas Group. When did the department become aware of Qantas's decision to split its domestic and international services into two separate businesses?

Mr Mrdak : With the public statement yesterday.

Senator XENOPHON: Not before?

Mr Mrdak : No.

Senator XENOPHON: Did the department have discussions with the Qantas Group about a possible separation before the public announcement?

Mr Mrdak : No.

Senator XENOPHON: Is the department able to provide any information, other than that given by Qantas, about the split?

Mr Mrdak : We have only looked at the material that was made available publicly yesterday. At this stage it appears to be an internal restructuring within the company in relation to how it structures its business divisions. As I understand it, that does not affect the way the Qantas Group is structured in terms of the share market and its operations. Certainly, it in no way changes the obligations of the company under the Qantas Sale Act.

Senator XENOPHON: Yes, I was going to ask you that. So, from your point of view, it does not change its obligations at all?

Mr Mrdak : That is correct. It is still required to meet all of the obligations under the Qantas Sale Act. It is trading under the name of Qantas and therefore all of the obligations which fall on the group under the sale act are applicable.

Senator XENOPHON: But, further to that, going from the Qantas Group to Virgin Australia, I asked questions, which you may be familiar with, in the Senate about what Virgin Australia was planning in terms of its international division. Has the department provided any information or had discussions with Virgin Australia on the operation of the Air Navigation Act 1920 in relation to Virgin Australia's split?

Mr Mrdak : Yes. We undertook extensive discussions with Virgin ahead of their decisions to structure the group in that way, with an eye to ensuring that they would meet the obligations of the Air Navigation Act. As you know, the Air Navigation Act has quite specific obligations as to the Australian operation of international air rights. As to the structure of the operation as it is now, we have no evidence that it does not comply with the act.

Senator XENOPHON: Is it possible, though, that this split would allow the Qantas Group to take similar action to Virgin Australia, where a domestic airline can operate as an Australian carrier but, under the current rules, it could be wholly foreign owned?

Mr Mrdak : No. The obligations of the Qantas Sale Act would not enable that to happen.

Senator XENOPHON: But Virgin could do that.

Mr Mrdak : Virgin has obligations under the Air Navigation Act. The Qantas Sale Act has additional obligations on the Qantas company which do not apply to other Australian international carriers.

Senator XENOPHON: I am conscious of Senator Williams wanting to ask questions. I have some questions of CASA in relation to air services.

Senator WILLIAMS: I only need five minutes. Who else wants to ask questions?

Senator WILLIAMS: In relation to the air crash at Moree, who am I talking to on this one?

Mr McCormick : That would be me.

Senator WILLIAMS: Thank you. You have released your report into the tragic crash of a light aircraft on its approach to the Moree Airport on 30 March last year, when three lives were lost. The report found that the pilot did not satisfy the recency requirements of the night visual flight rules and there was also a weight problem with the aircraft—I think a balancing of weight problem. I am looking to the future. How do you interact with industry to get such warnings out to others?

Mr McCormick : As far as the education program goes, we have an extensive education program where we visit sites and hold safety briefings for pilots and others that are involved on the airfield, such as air traffic controllers and engineering people. We also, of course, have our safety magazines and, if there is an issue where we have to take regulatory action, we take that through a notice of proposed rule making or we give a direction, if it is to a specific organisation.

Senator WILLIAMS: Do such findings lead to a review of standards or even a spot audit of other pilots of light aircraft to ensure that they are up to speed with their job?

Mr McCormick : Generally speaking, if it is a regular public transport operation or an operation carrying people for hire or reward then we have more strenuous oversight than we have of general aviation private operations.

Senator WILLIAMS: I raised with you last time an incident over Tamworth. I suppose you would call it a near miss. Could you check what progress has been made into the investigation of breakdown of separation of the Qantas and Virgin jets over Tamworth on 7 January? How close are you to finalising that report?

Mr McCormick : I think the ATSB is putting out a report on breakdown of separation incidents and where they occur. As far as breakdown of separation incidents go, they are reported to us under the electronic safety incident reporting scheme. However, we do not actually conduct the internal investigation of Airservices, which is required for these breakdowns of separations. ATSB may very well do that; but we rely on Airservices Australia giving us their report of what their internal investigation found. In the case of the breakdown of separation incidents, of which there are a number, we are awaiting that report now. We are also awaiting, as I say, the ATSB report, which I understand will be released later this year.

Senator WILLIAMS: During last estimates I raised this issue with Mr Dolan and his response was: 'We are uneasy about what may be a pattern of increased or different breakdowns of separation, losses of separation assurance. We are doing a number of current investigations to try to establish whether there is a systemic issue.' Do you have any results from those investigations as to whether this is a systemic issue?

Mr McCormick : No. But, as I alluded to earlier on, we are conducting a review of Airservices and we have looked at those individual events as much as we can without the inside knowledge of Airservices.

Senator WILLIAMS: From 1 January next year, ATSB will take on an expanded role as Australia's no-blame rail and maritime safety investigator. You currently receive approximately 9,000 accident or incident notices per year and that is expected to increase to up to 25,000 per annum; is that correct?

Mr Mrdak : Perhaps we can hold that until the next agenda. ATSB is on at 2.30, I think, and I would direct you there with that question.

Senator WILLIAMS: Yes; no problem at all. That just about does it for me, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Xenophon, and then I am keen to flick back to Senator Fawcett.

Senator XENOPHON: I will be as fast as possible. Mr McCormick, in relation to the response that you gave to Senator Williams in terms of your assessment about whether there was a systemic problem with respect to breakdown of separations—I think that is a fair summary of what you have said—you are relying to a large extent on the information that Airservices Australia need to provide to you; is that right?

Mr McCormick : That is correct so far as internal investigations—

Senator XENOPHON: When did you request that information?

Mr McCormick : The actual date we requested that information? I do not have that on me for the breakdown of separations, but for the TIBA incidents we requested it on 24 April.

Senator XENOPHON: So just under a month ago?

Mr McCormick : Yes, more or less.

Senator XENOPHON: What do you think a reasonable time frame for response is in relation to that?

Mr McCormick : Around a month.

Senator XENOPHON: So you are expecting it pretty soon.

Mr McCormick : Correct.

Senator XENOPHON: On notice, in the event that you receive that in the next week or so before the cut-off for questions on notice, could you provide further information in respect of that?

Mr McCormick : Yes, certainly.

Senator XENOPHON: In terms of the auditing of the operations of Airservices Australia, how many personnel or trained air traffic controllers does CASA employ specifically to provide an oversight of air traffic services?

Mr McCormick : We have many people. The actual number I do not have available, but we may have that. Of course, we have numerous people who hold or have held air traffic controller licences. I do not know whether Mr McGregor has the actual number.

Senator XENOPHON: If you could take that on notice. I just want to move through.

Mr McCormick : We might have the number here, actually. Do you have that number?

Mr McGregor : I can give you that number now, Senator. A number of people have held or hold—primarily have held—air traffic control licences. In the specific area of surveillance, there are four, and there is one that works on standards.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you, Mr McGregor. Have any of those people not had any previous involvement with Airservices Australia? Are they all ex Airservices Australia?

Mr McGregor : I can answer that. They have all been previous employees of Airservices Australia.

Senator XENOPHON: It has been suggested to me that the training and checking system required by part 172 of the Civil Aviation Regulations and by the manual standards, which I think Senator Fawcett has been referring to, has been severely compromised by under-resourcing, particularly in terms of operational staff. Are you satisfied, Mr McCormick, that Airservices Australia have the required management resources in place to ensure that all elements of the training and checking requirements are being consistently met?

Mr McCormick : That is an outcome that I expect to get and to form a view on from the review that we are doing of Airservices.

Senator XENOPHON: When will we know, do you think? I understand that you are undertaking a thorough review of Airservices Australia. What time frame are you looking at for an interim report or a final report?

Mr McCormick : We do not have a time line at this stage. When we do have one, I will give it to you as an answer on notice, if you like. The issue is that we do not want to, of course, be unfair in any of these proceedings, so we do have to take all points of view into consideration. Again, the ATSB reports inform our opinion quite strongly.

Senator XENOPHON: Will that be looking at the safety and compliance audit program for Airservices?

Mr McCormick : We have an existing safety and compliance audit program which continues in parallel to the undertaking I have just outlined, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Finally—I am aware that Senator Fawcett has a number of questions so I will put some on notice—I asked a question of Airservices Australia in relation to the issue of breaks. I am not sure whether you heard that question in the waiting room.

Mr McCormick : Yes, I did.

Senator XENOPHON: It was put to me that there was an incident on 12 February this year, when there was a two-hour break in terms of the air traffic controller, the rated person, being away from that post and another person was there but not of the same equivalent rating. I think normally under the rules it is supposed to be for 20 minutes, but the rated air traffic controller is the one who is responsible. Would you be concerned about a two-hour break period?

Mr McCormick : Yes, I would be. We have discussed with Airservices this principle of the short break and they are proposing some amendments to the procedure which we hope will address these issues.

Senator XENOPHON: Perhaps you could take on notice that incident that was put to me about 12 February. Finally, Mr McCormick, given that there has been the issue of an increase in separation breakdowns and given that CASA is undertaking this comprehensive review and overview of Airservices Australia, would it be fair to say that you would understand the concern that there has been in the aviation sector and amongst the public about some of the issues relating to Airservices Australia?

Mr McCormick : Certainly, breakdown of separation, loss of separation assurance, TIBA incidents or the use of TIBA: all of these things by themselves and individually are perhaps understandable and explainable and have been in some ways justified, if not totally justified. When you put them all together, you start to form a view that there may be more to this than meets the eye. We have no specific intelligence that is leading us to go to any particular area of Airservices and say, 'This is where we think there are issues.' With our normal surveillance program, we have a robust oversight of their training schools. We are doing work in that particular area and, of course, all of these incidents together will come under the spotlight when we complete our review of Airservices.

Senator XENOPHON: If people within the organisation or who have left the organisation are prepared to come forward with information, would they be given some protection in terms of their careers and any legal immunity?

Mr McCormick : I think I have said here before that my personal view is that I protect whistleblowers regardless of whether they have protection under some sort of legislation, as far as it goes—though it is safe to say that many whistleblowers are quite often disgruntled ex-employees and sometimes the veracity of their evidence has to be tested. We do not reveal the names of people who give us information. If anyone wishes to come forward, we naturally would take their input, but we do not plan to hold public hearings because it is not an issue in which the public has much interest; it is a technical issue from our point of view at this stage.

We are happy that the level of safety is acceptable. However, there is always room for improvement. We will form our full opinion on that when we have our report—it would be premature for me to state otherwise, I think, at this stage—and still allow procedural fairness to Airservices.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr McCormick, I just want to follow up on your comment before that you are very conscious of GA and the fact that you should not be putting an onerous regulatory burden on them. When it comes to regional aviation and particularly regional flying schools, where perhaps there is one flying instructor who is also the senior flying instructor, and one aircraft, is it appropriate, in your mind, if they can meet all the safety requirements, to have the same regulatory requirements around the nature of their workforce that you would place on a school at, for example, Parafield or Jandakot, with multiple aircraft and multiple people?

Mr McCormick : Thank you for that question. I share your view. In fact, in our regulatory development program, which will be completed this year on these particular items, the relevant section is CASA, part 141, which deals with, just as you say, small one-man bands, so to speak, organisations—small schools that are not doing complicated training, such as multicrew pilot licences, integrated training through to ATPL and that sort of thing.

Our intention is to allow those organisations to operate without an air operator's certificate, which will be a reduction in the cost burden to those organisations and also a reduction, of course, to us in our regulatory oversight burden. We can still oversight anybody we like, but we will focus more on the complex schools, the larger operators, as you say. They will be under part 142, and 142 does require an air operator's certificate. We are trying to take a light hand on people who wish to set up a training school at an outback airfield or remote town and teach a few people to fly. I think we should be encouraging that sort of behaviour, and we will do that through parts 141 and 142.

Senator FAWCETT: So you still see a future for that kind of operation within the GA stream as opposed to what to date has been the default transfer, which has been into the RA-Aus type scheme?

Mr McCormick : We are trying to remove the differences between RA-Aus and the GA world, as it is known, in the certified aeroplane category. We are aligning the day VFR syllabus as the training syllabus for basic private pilots, and also the RA-Aus world that generally does not produce pilots who wish to go on to a career in the major airline activity. Over a number of years in Australia, replicating the US and other parts of the world, the majority of training of pilots has been for those who are going on to be cadets in some other airline or are very rapidly getting to a major carrier in that stream of flying. But, of course, we still need people to fly to keep general aviation available. They do not want to be professional pilots but wish to fly their own aircraft. So we are trying to stimulate that end of the activity as best we can by lightening our hand on that part of it. But we still have to protect the travelling public and the Australian public, so we cannot walk away.

Senator FAWCETT: Under the elements of part 141—for example, the requirement for a GA flying instructor to hold a commercial pilot's licence—will that be changing or is that going to remain?

Mr McCormick : We are, in fact, looking at 141 to allow some private pilots to do flying instruction. That is permitted in the UK under their system, the CAA. We are looking at that, particularly in specialist areas such as aerobatics or perhaps unique or exotic aeroplanes.

Senator FAWCETT: My last question on this particular topic: in terms of the availability of testing officers to do renewal tests for flying instructors or award different categories of licence in regional areas, what plans does CASA have where there is not necessarily a big enough industry base for a self-funded or private person to be working routinely?

Mr McCormick : That is a constant challenge in balancing our manpower against the workload. Of course, we do have delegates and approved testing officers out in the industry, although in some of the remote towns or the smaller rural properties perhaps there would not be one of those available either. That is a tyranny of distance issue. We do, of course, have to balance our GA oversight staff with the larger GA organisations and the smaller ones. We generally do not oversight private operators to any great extent by our testing officers, unless they are required.

Senator FAWCETT: I will come back quickly to your role in the process of airport development, under local government. In fact under MOS 139, when an airport operator wishes to choose things like critical aircraft to determine runway length and a whole range of other things for the aircraft, you are supposed to be consulted. Can you confirm—I am happy for you to take this on notice—who was consulted when, for example, Jandakot decided that 2 Bravo would be their critical aircraft? Local government and state government in New South Wales have similar requirements to MOS 139 in terms of consultation, particularly where proposed development may infringe on the obstacle limitation surface. Were you consulted at Bankstown when the Toll building was put in on the final approach for the helipad? The helicopter operators now have to fly over, the whole time. For example, with places like Casino, they built a whole caravan park or motor home village on the extended centre line of the runway and had to shorten the runway by 1,500 feet to still allow appropriate clearance. Were you consulted on that? Bearing in mind that it might not be your regulation but that it was state and local government requirements, you should have been consulted on that.

Mr McCormick : I will take that on notice because Airservices and the department are involved in this to some extent as well.

CHAIR: We will call the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, but while the officers are changing over I want to put something on the record. I would like the attention of my fellow committee members on this. I know Ms O'Connell and Mr Wilson are not here. There was questioning this morning, and Senator Nash was here at the time. There were accusations of pork barrelling on the Pacific Highway project and there were some statements made. I wish to put figures on the record so that you can dissect them and keep them for whatever you may want to do. Mr Mrdak, I am led to believe very clearly that on the Pacific Highway 92 per cent, over $1.6 billion, of the funding for projects currently under construction is in coalition seats—not that it matters to you, and not that it matters to people along those roads, as long as they are safe. I want to make that very clear. Only three per cent is in the seat of Lyne and four per cent is in Labor seats.

I will quickly mention those projects under construction. There is the Bulahdelah bypass, which is worth $3.15 million, in Paterson. The Herons Creek to Stills Road project is a $60 million project in Lyne. The Kempsey bypass is a $618 million project in Cowper. Sapphire and Woolgoolga have a $705 million project in the seat of Cowper. The Devil's Pulpit project is $77 million, and that is in Page. Correct me if I am wrong but that is the work yet to commence on the remaining sections of the Pacific Highway, and 48 per cent of the total cost of completing the Pacific Highway is for projects in coalition seats, 14 per cent is in the seat of Lyne and 37 per cent is in Labor seats. Does that sound right? You would not know. You are just out there doing a fantastic job making sure our roads are safe for all Australians. Thanks, Mr Mrdak.

Senator KROGER: Sounds like government advertising!

Senator NASH: Written and authorised by?

CHAIR: No, we just have to correct the record. I think with me you know, colleagues, that I am a purveyor of the truth. I am making sure that Senator Joyce has the correct figures so that he is not misled and says something that could be embarrassing when the papers come out tomorrow.