Deficiencies in air safety in Australia have been uncovered in an audit by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and must be fixed by the end of the year to avoid risking the loss of its Level 1 rating as a nation in full compliance with the highest standards.

ICAO debriefed the relevant public servants and AirServices Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and other parties three weeks ago. It gave some of these parties a period of months to devise and implement a corrective action plan pending its publication of a final audit report by the end of the year.

This report will be posted after a draft version is circulated to and discussed with the Federal government and the safety bodies with ICAO having the last word over as to its contents or conclusions.

A spokesperson for CASA confirmed that the debriefing identified areas where Australia doesn’t conform to the various rules or annexes of ICAO but declined to give specifics.

He said, “There are no shock horrors in it. It did not identify any immediate threats to aviation and any suggestion that it does are an exaggeration.”

Crikey understands the debriefing strongly endorsed some aspects of air safety procedures in Australia, including technical excellence in making recommendations arising from issues with faulty components. However it was described as being sufficiently confronting over certain deficiencies to put Australia’s over all ICAO level 1 rating at risk.

It is not difficult to guess where it found them, within an air traffic control system that doesn’t continuously control even at major airports, an air safety investigator that doesn’t always investigate, and an air safety regulator that not only doesn’t always regulate, but according to departing chief executive officer Bruce Byron, sees its role as encouraging rather than enforcing compliance.

Such spectacles as Qantas refusing to take off or land at Australian airports because AirServices Australia can’t fulfil its responsibilities haven’t escaped notice. Nor, it is understood, has the absurd exposure of larger scheduled aircraft to light aviation movements around airports where passenger numbers are rapidly growing.

If Australia loses its Level 1 ICAO rating it also drops from a Level 1 to a Level 2 nation under the US Federal Aviation Administration’s safety assessment rules.

The FAA allows the established carriers of Level 2 countries to continue flying into US airports subject to heightened surveillance, but it bars entry by new carriers using their own aircraft unless they are wet-leased (meaning crewed and maintained by) an airline from a Level 1 state.

This means Virgin Blue’s plans for flights to the US by ‘V Australia’ are in effect hostage to the current and unsatisfactory failings of air safety services and administration in this country.

Peter Fray

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