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

Civil Aviation Safety Authority


CHAIR: Welcome to representatives from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. I would like to start by acknowledging the appointment of the new CEO and DAS, Ms Spence. Having had interactions with you before at estimates and other places, I look forward to you leading this organisation. Congratulations on the new role.

Ms Spence : Thanks, Chair.

CHAIR: Do you have an opening statement?

Ms Spence : No, thank you.

Senator STERLE: Congratulations.

Senator SHELDON: I'll add my congratulations on your promotion.

Senator STERLE: We're going to be nice to you at first—

CHAIR: That's right.

Ms Spence : I'll bask in it while it happens!

Senator STERLE: until the machine gobbles you up and turns you into something else!

Senator SHELDON: That won't happen. I just want to go to some stakeholder matters which have been raised with me. You might have seen earlier that we've been asking some questions about the relocation of air traffic controllers out of Sydney Airport to Melbourne. One of the concerns that was raised prior to these estimates hearings is that the Melbourne based controllers will not be cognisant of local noise issues like Sydney residents are. Would you expect a public backlash when this leads to more aircraft noise over the Sydney Basin? Is that something that's been taken into account?

Ms Spence : I might ask Mr Crawford what role CASA has in approving those sorts of changes.

Mr Crawford : Essentially, when there are any changes proposed by Airservices, they're required ultimately to make an application to us. As you can appreciate, our primary focus is obviously safety rather than noise. We're interested in knowing, if they're making a change, how they will continue the current operations and transition to the proposed new operations and maintain the necessary level of safety. So we're not specifically focused on the noise aspect.

Senator SHELDON: Sorry to ask you, but could you just briefly step me through, rather than in detail, what are the steps that Airservices will go through to seek approval for the changes in operations for those that may be going to Melbourne or those that may be made redundant?

Mr Crawford : Sure. Essentially, they would have put in an application saying they're changing their current operations solution to a proposed new solution. When they do that, again, our primary focus is how they maintain, as a minimum, the same level of safety. So we're obviously interested in, when they're making the transition to the new arrangement, what potential risks they see and how they intend to manage and mitigate those risks. Again, I emphasise obviously our focus is on the safety aspect to make sure that that is maintained during the time of change.

Senator SHELDON: I just want to move to a slightly similar sort of issue. OneSKY, which, of course, is a $1 billion project, was signed off with Sydney having a standalone air traffic centre. How much were Thales charged to amend this contract and reconfigure the system that's already been designed, and will this cause further delays to the already heavily delayed implementation?

Ms Spence : I think that might be better placed to Airservices Australia. We're not involved in the contract with Thales.

Senator Reynolds: Previous, Senator Patrick did ask a number of similar questions, so you might find some of the answers to those are in Hansard.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you Minister. That will be helpful. I'll have a look at that before I send any questions over to Airservices. I want to move to another matter. Has the Ayers Rock aerodrome trial of class E airspace commenced?

Mr Crawford : I would have to take that one on notice. Sorry, I don't know off the top of my head.

Senator STERLE: Can I just come in here? You have one job to do. Seriously. For something as simple as that, Mr Crawford, with the greatest of respect, can you get your finger working on your phone and just send a message to downtown or something for crying out loud? It's not a hard thing to find out. Come on!

Mr Crawford : We've done a number of assessments of Ayers Rock in the past. Maybe—

Senator STERLE: Let's dig deep.

Mr Crawford : We have someone trying to get the answer, but, as you know, Ayers Rock is a location that's been subject of much discussion, and we've done a number of trials over time, hence why I took it on notice—because it's a continual piece of discussion and work.

Senator STERLE: I understand. But, with the greatest of respect, Ms Spence is new in the seat. I'm going to say this right now: these are very important questions from Senator Sheldon. We were still receiving answers to questions on notice—I don't blame the agencies or blame the block at the minister's office—as late as yesterday. So, please, someone out there in another room, before you leave today, let's get the answers. Chair, I don't even mind waiting three minutes. I think Senator Sheldon won't mind while we put a phone call in and do something, please.

Mr Crawford : We've got somebody trying to do it right now.

Senator STERLE: Thank you. Sorry, Senator Sheldon.

Senator SHELDON: Obviously we don't know whether a class E airspace has commenced, so we won't know details of the project. Is there anyone here that does? The trial involves, I understand, the introduction of class C airspace down to 3,875 feet above ground level, which equates to 5,500 feet above the mean sea level.

Ms Spence : I think the detail of the arrangements—and Mr Crawford can correct me if I'm wrong—would actually be better placed to Airservices rather than us. We approve a proposal that comes through to us, but, for detail of the arrangements, I think Airservices would probably be in a better place to go into detail.

Ms Dacey : Can I just support Ms Spence: it is an Airservices proposal that was out for consultation. I haven't got the specifics in my head, but they did put a proposal out, got quite a bit of feedback and were going back out again—that's my recollection.

Mr Crawford : I confirm that the Ayers Rock class E assessment has started, but it's been extended because of the COVID situation.

Senator STERLE: May I just ask this—sorry, if you don't mind, Senator Sheldon. I understand you said it's Airservices that put the proposal out, but you guys get the tick off, not Airservices—that's correct, isn't it?

Ms Spence : That's correct. So, if you're going through the detail of it, they'd be better placed to work through the detail of that.

Senator STERLE: Sorry—they've put a proposal up, but you're the agency that's charged; you'll have the final say, yea or nay.

Ms Spence : Yes.

Senator STERLE: So have you had any conversation around that proposal—anything at all? Is it shooting pie in the sky? Has it been done somewhere else in Australia? Is this brand new? Is this just a thought bubble?

Mr Crawford : The process they put in is what we call an ACP, an airspace change proposal. Again, it's a similar process to what we talked about earlier. We're interested in the proposed situation and any potential changes in the risk profile and how that's going to be managed. Because Ayers Rock has been the subject of multiple reviews over the last number of years, it's an area where there's some interest by some people in the aviation community, obviously, to do a change. So it's a kind of living example right now. They have in the past put in submissions. They have proposed to do a proposal. As I say, we're working with them on it, but we haven't reached a conclusion yet.

Ms Spence : But there have certainly been conversations between CASA and Airservices on proposals and how they would work. So it's not just a cold presentation or a proposal.

Senator STERLE: Sorry, Senator Sehldon—I've apologised to you twice now.

Senator SHELDON: That's alright. Is it true that CASA has approved a class E at Mackay Airport at night down to 700 feet AGL?

Mr Crawford : I honestly couldn't tell you. I would need to take it on notice. We can get the information. It's just not at hand.

Senator SHELDON: This is frustrating.

Senator STERLE: So we can get that before you leave today?

Ms Spence : We're trying.

Mr Crawford : We'll try. We've got somebody in the back of the room attempting to do that.

Senator STERLE: Thank you. That's good.

Senator SHELDON: Was Airservices Australia the airspace change proponent for the application of the Mackay low-level class E airspace?

Ms Spence : We'll take that on notice.

Senator SHELDON: I appreciate you're now finding whether the class C is there and what's happened with the 700 feet AGL. Would it have been subject to it a cost-benefit analysis?

Mr Crawford : The first thing is that any change in the current airspace to future proposal ultimately comes from Airservices to us. Sorry, I missed the second question—what was that?

Senator SHELDON: Would there have been a cost-benefit analysis that CASA would have been involved in?

Mr Crawford : We wouldn't specifically look at the cost benefit analysis. We look at cost benefit analysis when we introduce a regulation that changes a set of circumstances and the impact that that may have on industry.

Senator SHELDON: Is it possible for us to get a copy of the cost benefit analysis?

Mr Crawford : I think you would have to go to Airservices for that.

Ms Spence : As Mr Crawford was saying, we would be looking at it from a safety perspective, because it's a proposal that someone else has put through to us. It's not our regulations; we'd look at the costs associated with imposing those regulations.

Senator SHELDON: I might move to another subject. A member of the public Mr Glen Buckley has raised in my office an issue in relation to his flying school, Melbourne Flight Training. He said it was fine to mention his name. Mr Buckley was advised he was told by CASA that his business was Australian unauthorised operation and he feels he did not receive a proper explanation as to why this occurred. You can take it on notice unless you have the answers here now. Are you able to clear things up about what that concern is from Mr Buckley?

Ms Spence : There's a long history to CASA's engagement with Mr Buckley, and I'm not sure we could give a simple response.

CHAIR: Just to add to that, we had Mr Buckley provide evidence at one of the general aviation hearings recently. It certainly is a serious matter, and I don't in any way mean to cut you short, but I think perhaps if we refer to the Hansard and come back to this one.

Senator SHELDON: Look, I'm happy to do that, because there are further questions I wanted to ask, so, on notice, I'll do that with regard to the email. I will take that course of action, Chair.

Mr Crawford : I may just add that the matter is with the Ombudsman as well.

Senator SHELDON: So it obviously hasn't been resolved?


Senator SHELDON: That's all, Chair.

Senator STERLE: Did you get an answer back to the one we left hanging? We're still waiting?

Mr Crawford : We're still waiting.

Senator STERLE: Tremendous. We're going to finish here, but, if would you mind hanging around, thanks very much.

CHAIR: I've got a couple of questions for you, please. I just want to follow on from some questions I asked at the last estimates. It's just around the harmonisation process. Ms Spence, I don't expect that you'll necessarily have all the facts, but previously Mr Carmody had made a couple of public statements about working on that. Industry tells me it would be one of the most useful things if the organisation could get a more successful approach to being able to get the same answer from different participants in CASA. How are you going with that?

Ms Spence : Significant work has been done in that space. I think Mr Crawford is very well placed to update the committee.

Mr Crawford : Yes. We're obviously on a journey doing a transformation within our organisation. We're moving from a regional focused solution to a national focused solution, which actually lends itself to addressing that consistency issue. We've already trialled that in a couple of areas, so, you'll be aware, we're moving to the new flight crew fatigue rules. We have a central team right now looking at people's submissions for FRMS. We are on that journey, and the early indications are very promising.

CHAIR: Does that mean that regional officers of CASA are still empowered to provide advice and engage with their local aviators?

Mr Crawford : Yes. We're still at a place where local aviators can ask questions, but we've also established a central guidance centre to address the inconsistency issues. It's a bit of a catch 22. We want people to be able to reach into the local office. If they've got some inquiries, they can still do that, recognising that that's one of the reasons we've had inconsistency in the past.

CHAIR: I look forward to hearing more about that. Just back to the new fatigue rules, I understand that they are supposed to commence on the 1 July. How is that date looking with the number of applications or submissions so far?

Mr Crawford : At the moment we've had quite a number of submissions and we've processed them, but we're still working with the aviation community. The rules provide you with a number of options which are kind of prescriptive in an annex structure, and then there's annexe 7, which is an FRMS. Until everybody in industry has indicated what their preference is, it's hard to know exactly what's still to come our way. At the moment things seem to be going reasonably well.

CHAIR: Is it possible to have a breakdown of how many companies are expected to change over versus how many have made their submissions and how many are already approved?

Mr Crawford : I'll take that on notice to try to get some information.

CHAIR: If there is a very low number of submissions, do you think you are going to be right to meet the 1 July start date?

Mr Crawford : At the moment we still think—

CHAIR: You've said, though, that there's quite a number.

Mr Crawford : Yes. I think that date is still achievable, but, as I say, we're still working through it. We've dealt with some of the bigger organisations, obviously, who are using fatigue risk management systems that are more complex. I think what's required is a discussion with some of the smaller operators to decide whether they're going to work within an appendix, which is already set out for them, or whether they're going to do a fatigue risk management solution, and that depends on the complexity. We're engaged with people, but we're also relying on people in industry to come to us with their proposals.

CHAIR: So the prescriptive flight duty period limits in the regulations are based on science and on international best practice. They meet our obligations under the International Civil Aviation Organization, don't they? Okay, they do. Are they broadly the same as the prescriptive requirements that are currently in effect?

Mr Crawford : There are some differences. I think it'd be fair to say that we arranged an independent review of our fatigue rules and that that independent review ultimately took a look at what the best practices were across the globe. We tried to harmonise with the FAA, the Canadians and EASA. I think the rule set we've put in place isn't too onerous; let me put it that way.

CHAIR: So why is CASA asking operators to adjust these limits and make them more restrictive?

Mr Crawford : It depends on the set of circumstances. There may be some examples where people are operating under a current regime that's actually outside the new regime. We're asking them to comply with the new requirements. But, as I mentioned earlier, the new requirements have essentially been constructed based on what we see being applied across the rest of the world with the more progressive regulators.

CHAIR: What science are you using to make these changes to say that the previously used parameters are not suitable?

Mr Crawford : What we ultimately did was we reached out and got an independent review. Our board actually asked for an independent review to be conducted and we took the advice of that independent review. So that was at the request of industry.

CHAIR: It was at the request of the board.

Mr Crawford : Yes, but the board was responding to a request from industry.

CHAIR: Senator Sterle will be interested in this, because fatigue management, across a number of industries, particularly in the Top End, is something that is not always very reflective of the needs of industry. I hope you're not focusing on people who fly just around the south-east of Queensland or Sydney and Melbourne. But before you answer that—because that was an emotive question for me, I'm sorry.

Senator STERLE: You do digress at times, Chair.

CHAIR: I do, don't I. It's unfortunate!

Senator STERLE: You get overzealous and carried away!

CHAIR: I just want to know that there is science and research that talks about the limits that were suitable for flight duty periods—particularly in the Far North during the wet season, during mustering seasons, during high activity seasons—and that you've got research that shows that what they've been working on currently is not appropriate.

Mr Crawford : If people want to work outside the prescriptive limits in the different appendices, the solution is an FRMS. That's what an FRMS is; it's an alternative means of compliance. If the operator can demonstrate that they can manage the perceived higher risks, let's say, associated with an extended operation, then we will evaluate it on its merit.

Ms Spence : Essentially, it's two paths to get the same outcome.

CHAIR: I am just trying to understand why the operator can't continue to manage their fatigue and their flying hours in the way that they've been able to do previously, using common sense, using the practical industry requirements. Remember, this is a small part of the industry but very important.

Mr Crawford : But as I said earlier, the vehicle for that operator would appear to be a fatigue risk management system. The onus is on the operator to say, 'Okay, with my set of operations, I would like to do a trial to prove that I can manage the mitigations.' That is the arrangement we get into with a number of operators. We've already done a number of trials. So there is a vehicle there for that operator.

CHAIR: My experience to date, though, is that most operators are very reluctant to come to you with a specific requirement, because it doesn't always work out well for them. That's the reason why people don't want to give evidence publicly. I'm just telling you that. That's feedback. This is why you have operators that are saying, 'I'm terrified of telling CASA that I need to manage things differently because I may well be managed out of profitability or practicality.'

Mr Crawford : The challenge we have is that if they don't come and share that information with us we can't assess it, so it's a bit of a catch 22.

CHAIR: Do you have to assess it, if they're managing it and they're operating safely?

Mr Crawford : If we're going to have an FRMS we have to assess it, yes.


Mr Crawford : Because that's what our rule set says.

CHAIR: Because why?

Mr Crawford : Because that's what our regulations require.

Ms Spence : We need to be able to—

CHAIR: Because your regulations require it. Because you need a rule.

Mr Crawford : That's a standard across the globe. If you go to other aviation regulators, they have a mechanism for assessing people who want to deviate from prescriptive limits. That's a standard practice in aviation.

CHAIR: It's a way of operating that doesn't reflect—it's whether or not you're addressing proportionality of regulation around different sectors within the industry.

Mr Crawford : I understand the proportionality argument. We're in favour of the proportionality argument.

Ms Spence : Essentially, we want to demonstrate that you can be an outcomes based regulator through using the FRMS but that does require us to be able to do our side of it and say, 'Yes, we think this delivers a safe outcome on the basis of the proposal that's been put to us.'

CHAIR: Some operators have been using standard industry exemptions for many years. What did this allow for? I assume that the exemptions approved by CASA and oversighted by CASA meant that they were operating safely.

Mr Crawford : There were a variety of industry exemptions in the past. It reverts back to us having brought in a new set of rules. If operators want to operate differently from prescriptive rules—and there are four or five annexes—there is a vehicle. We created an 'FRMS light', where we said that if you've just got a minor change to an appendix we would allow that. So you could work still within the appendix but have a minor deviation. But if it's a significant deviation from the appendix they have to have an FRMS. That's the way the regulation's constructed.

CHAIR: But if they've had these exemptions for a long time, they've not had a problem and they've got a proven track record, is the limit under the new exemption allowed to be carried over into the new rules?

Mr Crawford : If they wanted to continue with what they'd done previously and it didn't fit within an existing appendix, they would have to submit an FRMS that said, 'This is how we want to do it.' By all means, they can share their past experiences and we do a trial.

CHAIR: You make it seem so reasonable and so straightforward, but we know that's not the case people have had, particularly in the Far North where they have different flying conditions and livestock handling and so forth. Are you telling me that if people come to you with examples of where they want to vary their appendix this is not a process that will leave them lying awake at night worrying that they're going to lose their business?

Mr Crawford : On the assumption that they're adequately managing the risks, yes.

CHAIR: They must be, because they've been flying with these exemptions for some time.

Mr Crawford : That's a big assumption, I would suggest.

Ms Spence : The bottom line is, if they capture what they're doing into an FRMS and submit it for assessment, we would go through a trial process and, assuming that everything's okay, that could be approved. But we do have to meet our requirements of ensuring that everybody is safe, and that includes the people in the plane.

CHAIR: Indeed. They are the most keen on being safe. If they've been able to demonstrate that over a very long period of time, I just worry that this is another example of the tightening of the aviation noose on aviation in the north.

Ms Spence : One option we could do is to look at how many FRMS applications we've had and what processes we've done, through those, to give you some level of comfort that we're trying to work collaboratively but maintain a strong safety record.

CHAIR: Are these current rules going to allow you to monitor fatigue and make adjustments where needed?

Mr Crawford : The reality is, the operator should monitor their own fatigue management system, because it's a subset of a safety management system. When we go in and review operators and assess their safety management systems we're interested in how they're taking safety information, data, and how they're addressing things as they materialise. That's how we do it. We do it during our oversight processes.

CHAIR: I want to flag that I hear that the Air Force comment on general aviation, safety and operations. The Air Force flies a fraction of the hours that these guys in the north fly. I'm really worried that as an organisation you're focused on big operations, Qantas, Virgin and Air Force pilots, and the guys who are—and girls, aviatrix; four per cent of pilots are women—in this sector of the industry that is so critical to developing industry in the north, tourism, moving people around on charters, are going to end up with another gold-plated requirement that's going to force aviation companies, in GA particularly, to jump through another level of red tape and cost just to continue doing what they've been doing safely for years.

Mr Crawford : All I can tell you is we did a lot of consultation on the new fatigue rules—

CHAIR: Great.

Mr Crawford : with technical working groups through the Aviation Safety Advisory Panel. We had representation from a variety of the aviation sector. There were genuine concerns about us coming up with a set of rules that may be too restrictive or not proportionate, so our board engaged an independent entity to review it. They came back with recommendations and we, essentially, adopted those recommendations.

CHAIR: On notice, could I ask for who you consulted with, where they were from, what sector of the industry, who the independent consultant was?

Mr Crawford : Yes.

CHAIR: You know I'm passionate about this part of the world and I think aviation has become more and more focused on the big end of town. The guys who are out there mustering cattle, moving people around, doing charters, doing tourism in the far north of Australia are feeling very isolated and afraid to speak up.

Ms Spence : I'm conscious this has been going on for—I think this dates back to about 2016, when the independent review occurred. We'll give you as much information as we can about who was consulted but I'm just conscious that the list could be quite long, by the time we go back to when this started.

CHAIR: Some of the people who were consulted told me they stopped being engaged because they weren't being listened to. That might be part of the challenge.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Could I ask a follow up? I'm very new to this, but that is relevant to the WA context.

CHAIR: Yes, please.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Mr Crawford, in terms of the consultations you conducted in the formulation of the new process, being a national body, I'm imagining that you would have consulted with reps from WA?

Mr Crawford : There's the potential that there would be operators from WA.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Would you be able to provide those on notice as well, in addition to those?

Mr Crawford : Sure.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: It would be interesting to get the context on that. If I understand the process that you described correctly, the department contracted an independent organisation to undertake these consultations.

Mr Crawford : The CASA board essentially decided to get the services of an independent entity to conduct a review of fatigue rules. They looked at the FAA, Transport Canada, EASA, UK CAA and CAA NZ in New Zealand, because we saw them as like-minded regulators, for want of a better term. They basically consolidated that information. As you'd expect, there are variations between the different regulators. To some extent, they came up with composite values, if that helps.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: When we say 'independent entity', are we talking about non-government?

Mr Crawford : Yes, independent from CASA and government.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Do you actually know—could you tell us?

Mr Crawford : I can't remember off the top of my head. I'll take it on notice.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Of course. Having just rolled in here and having listened to the chair's argument, as you created that composite from the international examples—did you say there's a UK example and an FAA example in there?

Mr Crawford : What we did was we looked at what methodology those regulators are currently applying or considering applying in the future—if we had that information.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I imagine that both of those contexts may potentially have made allowances for variation in rural or regional contexts or in situations where there were particularly thin markets of aviation provision. I could be wrong. Would you be able to go back and check if there's any information you can provide around those international examples you examined as to whether there was a higher degree of variation between, say, running something in a metro area in the UK versus running it in the north of Scotland?

Mr Crawford : Hopefully just to give you a bit of comfort, obviously when we talk about fatigue rules down here in Australia, people see a large continent, diverse regional communities and Indigenous communities that rely heavily on air transport—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Hugely.

Mr Crawford : so some people will say we're a bit unique. But if you look at Canada, they've got a similar set of circumstances, and they've got winter in mountains. So we looked quite closely at the Canadians for obvious reasons. Where we see a number of particular regulators who maybe regulating in a similar environment, we try to look closer at their particular solution, because if they've already developed something, it may be worthy of—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: There are some very interesting analogies with Canada, I imagine. If you could provide that on notice, that would be really useful.

Mr Crawford : On your question on participants from the different states—sometimes it's an industry association that represents the operator.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: There would be quite a lot of similarities between the experience of somebody operating around the north of Western Australia and the experience of somebody in the NT. It's just to satisfy my curiosity. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much—a fellow CASA enthusiast!

Senator STEELE-JOHN: A newly discovered CASA and RRAT enthusiast, in fact.

CHAIR: Isn't that fabulous. We welcome everybody. Thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. There you go, Ms Spence—you've been blooded.

Ms Spence : Great, thank you.

Senator STERLE: Chair, I think Senator Sheldon may get an answer.

Ms Spence : I think we've got an answer.

Mr Crawford : The Mackay proposal is part of a class E proposal that the ASA is still reviewing. This is a class C J-curve solution that you're probably aware of, that's still in consultation. We are considering that proposal, so we've still to work our way through it. One of the things that we're very interested in with that particular scenario is to make sure there's sufficient consultation, because it's very significant down the east coast. I think that's probably the key thing.

Senator STERLE: Thank you very much for that and for your help. It saves you the paper work later.

Mr Crawford : Thanks I appreciate it.

CHAIR: Thank you.