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

CHAIR —Welcome, Ms Norris. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Norris —I am here as the wife of Paul Raymond Norris, who lost his life in the Lockhart River plane crash on 7 May 2005.

CHAIR —Do you wish to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Ms Norris —I will just say that I come here with the capacity to talk about the very human element of how the system failed my husband and the passengers on board that flight that day. I am not a lawyer or an aviation expert. My submission was made with my lawyer, who had some very good recommendations, I believe.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I very gently seek clarification. Was your husband in the right-hand seat or the left-hand seat?

Ms Norris —My husband was a pilot but he was a passenger on that day. He had paid for his fare.

Senator O’BRIEN —Your submission talks about certain regulatory matters to do with trainee pilots or inexperienced pilots. Could you elaborate further on what you are actually seeking as a recommendation?

Ms Norris —Obviously I can only talk from my experience of that particular flight. The copilot had very low time. He had less than 500 hours. My husband, who was a pilot, had around 1,500 hours and he was not in the position of flying a metro—a high-performance aeroplane. My point there is that I believe that there should be some regulation by which a low-time pilot is not allowed to fly under RPT conditions, especially when the operator was known to take money, where pilots were actually able to buy their time on that type of aeroplane.

Senator O’BRIEN —Can you expand upon that?

Ms Norris —I know many pilots who had bought time with Transair.

Senator O’BRIEN —So they were flying an RPT route whilst undergoing training?

Ms Norris —Yes, whilst undergoing training, but actually buying their time—that is, they were not getting paid an income; they were actually buying their time.

Senator O’BRIEN —So it was just to get their hours up?

Ms Norris —That is right.

Senator O’BRIEN —So they would perform the flight without payment simply to increase their number of hours on that aircraft?

Ms Norris —Exactly; and, I might add, in a situation where there probably are not proper checks and training capacity and where it is not in the interests of the airline to really train these pilots. It is simply a money-making scheme for them.

Senator O’BRIEN —How do you know this?

Ms Norris —I know pilots—without mentioning their names—who did this with Transair.

Senator O’BRIEN —Was this raised at the coronial inquiry?

Ms Norris —Yes, it was.

Senator O’BRIEN —There was quite a report, but I do not recall specific reference to it in the report. I am presuming there was.

Ms Norris —Many pilots had come forth and basically voiced this to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority anyway.

Senator O’BRIEN —Was there any way in which the regulator could have known about this practice prior to the crash?

Ms Norris —Without completely knowing the inner workings of an audit that CASA conducts, I believe it should certainly include this. I believe logbooks are looked at. My husband’s logbook was certainly looked at when he was working for Aero Tropics prior to the crash. So there should be some way of knowing whether that pilot is qualified to be flying that plane and what his hours are.

Senator HEFFERNAN —My understanding is that he was not endorsed.

Ms Norris —That is correct. He was not endorsed to do that particular instrument approach. On the day that was the captain’s decision, and clearly the wrong decision, but the copilot certainly was not endorsed to do it.

Senator O’BRIEN —Hence the flying to increase hours to get the endorsement.

Ms Norris —That is right.

Senator O’BRIEN —I guess we can raise directly with CASA their view on the matter. Do you know whether there are adequate pilots in that region to be employed? Was that the issue?

Ms Norris —I would say that now that could be extremely difficult, given the pilot shortage as well. At the time, I imagine there would have been. I would say, without knowing completely but from speaking to pilots, that the operator wanted to use his operation as a way of making money out of young copilots who needed to buy their time.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Did you hear yesterday on the wireless reports of, shall I say, the ‘cowboy’ experience in the north that is becoming more prevalent?

Ms Norris —I did not hear that, so I do not know. But obviously there were many statements made about—

Senator HEFFERNAN —This is in the present. They are saying that this is prevalent now.

Ms Norris —I do not know. Can I enlarge on my submission with regard to passenger liability insurance. To date, only two people have received any insurance payout, and it has taken almost three years to receive that. You will note that I made some recommendations about that. That is something that seriously needs to be looked at. Not only are you dealing with a tragedy where you have lost a loved one but then you are faced with over two years of fighting to be compensated in some way.

Senator HEFFERNAN —A legal nightmare.

Ms Norris —An absolute legal nightmare that costs you a good part of the compensation you receive in the end, which is inadequate for a person’s life.

Senator SIEWERT —You were saying that the low hours time should be regulated. Are you suggesting that it should be regulated or not allowed?

Ms Norris —I am suggesting that it should be not allowed—that a pilot should not be allowed to buy his time on a regular public transport route where there are passengers paying for what they believe are qualified pilots flying an aeroplane. Obviously, Lockhart River proved that that was not the case.

Senator SIEWERT —I just wanted to clarify that. I wrote down ‘regulate’ when you were speaking, and I just wanted to check whether you meant regulate it or not allow it.

Ms Norris —Sure.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you. I just wanted to clarify that.

CHAIR —Ms Norris, you say that you have heard a lot about the buying of time since the crash. Do you know of any conversations about that before the Lockhart River crash?

Ms Norris —Sure. I think it is a known industry fact. I am not suggesting that Transair are the only operator that have been guilty of doing that. I think it is an industry problem that has been prevalent.

CHAIR —Why do you think it is an industry problem that has been prevalent?

Ms Norris —Because I have heard plenty of people talk about doing it. Whether we think it is right or wrong, clearly Lockhart River proves that it is wrong. Yes, the captain did have a lot of experience, but if you have two experienced people it makes a hell of a difference when you are on a regular public transport route, especially when you throw in bad weather and a complicated approach.

CHAIR —Are you aware of anyone in the industry or in the region raising that concern with the relevant authority prior to the crash?

Ms Norris —Yes: pilots.

CHAIR —Can you elaborate on that a bit more?

Ms Norris —It would be difficult for me to elaborate without naming people—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Would you be able to give that evidence in camera?

Ms Norris —I would probably need to speak to the people before I could do that.

CHAIR —But you can say that you were aware of these concerns being raised with the relevant authority.

Ms Norris —Yes.

CHAIR —Do you know how many times?

Ms Norris —I do not know exactly how many. I know one in particular who raised it probably three or four times with CASA.

CHAIR —We will be here until tomorrow lunchtime, so we will leave it you with you.

Senator HEFFERNAN —If you would like to consult those people, we could probably fit you in if you wanted to come back and give us a bit of evidence in camera.

Ms Norris —Okay.

CHAIR —On that, then, Ms Norris, we do thank you very much for your assistance to the committee.

Ms Norris —Thank you.

[11.29 am]