For an insight into how ineffective CASA is in regulating the airlines, this week’s spat with one of its former inspectors John Wood is hard to pass up.

On Monday Wood wrote this damning critique in The Canberra Times.

Today CASA issued this reponse to Crikey.

The key point Wood made, that CASA is not carrying out its obligations under the Civil Aviation Act, remains unanswered.

CASA was clueless about the Ansett failure to carry out several critical airworthiness directives between Christmas Eve 2000 and Easter 2001.

It was clueless about Qantas overlooking a truly critical airworthiness directive in relation to the pressure bulkheads of six of its aging 737s for five years until like Ansett in the past, Qantas discovered its error (on 12 August) and grounded the jets pending repairs which have now been completed.

Today the CASA spokesman, Peter Gibson, said:

“Does CASA or the FAA or any other regulator directly oversee the implementation of each AD? The answer is No. That is the responsibility of the airline. The regulators then look at AD compliance as part of audits, which means not every AD is checked out but rather a sample to make sure the systems are working.

“If non compliance is found then the regulator takes action.”

But surely that’s the point. It didn’t find them. And when it comes to Qantas audits, why were they so abysmally ineffective?

The current special CASA audit of Qantas is also turning into an audit of its own auditing skills as well as the mess within the airline.

Crikey contacted persons who variously have worked in the FAA or still do and they expressed incredulity that CASA wasn’t aggressively pursuing critical ADs and disbelief that it had allowed deferred maintenance at Qantas to turn into a crisis.

CASA declined to comment on informal advice being circulated in SE Asia that Malaysia has responded to Australian allegations of sub standard maintenance in a Kuala Lumpur facility used by Qantas by deciding not to approve any overhaul or modification procedures carried out in Australia.

The Malaysian position is that CASA standards for such work are either vague or non-existent, and the Australians contractors will only be allowed to carry out procedures such as refitting aircraft or installing auxiliary fuel tanks if they have obtained authorisation by the FAA or its European counterpart EASA.

If such bans on Australian MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) activities take hold they will kill off significant export earnings in a sector already struggling to come to terms with Boeing Australia’s decision to reduce its local presence.