The only tenable conclusion that can be made from the Pel-Air disclosures on Four Corners last night is that the performances of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau are so bad that they constitute a threat to public safety in Australia.
It is fortunate that those disclosures related to the ditching near Norfolk Island of an air ambulance flight in which all six people survived, and not the deaths of hundreds of people in the crash of an airliner operator by an Australian airline that neither organisation dares to touch.
Under background documents Pel-Air responds to the hitherto confidential audit of its operations as follows:
That response shows that Pel-Air is in total denial as to the substance of the audit’s findings, which are also posted in the same location.
Here are some additional extracts from an audit that CASA doesn’t want the public to be able to access when it exercises any choice in air services, or in this case, that responsible state authorities might exercise in the awarding of contracts for aerial ambulance work:
What is extraordinary about the above conclusion is the reference to “deficiencies … not identified or rectified, which is indicative of broader organisation failures”.
This was not the first Pel-Air audit conducted by CASA. Its previous audit is understood to have failed to identify these grievous issues, and CASA ought to be required to release that audit and explain whether Pel-Air fell into sudden and near disastrous decline in terms of standards in a short period of time, or was given a free pass for reasons that it ought to be compelled to disclose to an appropriate independent inquiry.
What on earth was going on in CASA, as the safety regulator and enforcer, to allow a situation more akin to a struggling and corrupt Third World economy to prevail and permit such deficiencies to exist in an Australian operation?
Record keeping is a fundamental requirement of a properly licensed air operator. As a level one nation in terms of its air-safety performance, we are tolerating level two incompetency in a carrier. At the very least, CASA ought to have used the same courage it displayed in grounding Tiger Airways as an imminent threat to safety, and served it with a show cause notice.
Pel-Air’s failings were many, and sudden, given the previous audit. Was that audit a rubber-stamp exercise, or just the application of craven incompetence? Answers are needed, and ought to be demanded by the responsible minister, or a urgent and high-powered and tightly focused parliamentary inquiry.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.