The report of the Senate Inquiry into the administration of CASA is not typical of the genre.

It is comparatively short, lucid and lethal about the poor state of the air safety regulator’s management under CEO Bruce Byron if read line by line.

Read in conjunction with what is known about the CASA special audit of Qantas, a dismal picture of the regulator’s capacity to regulate and the airline’s ability to maintain its fleet emerges.

Let’s summarise the key disclosures:

CASA totally failed to identify and act on deteriorating maintenance standards at Qantas during Byron’s tenure, which started in 2003 and ends this November up until it called for a special but commercial-in-confidence audit in August, weeks after the Senate inquiry had concluded.

In his evidence and tendered documents Byron sought to redefine CASA’s role from being an enforcer of the air safety laws to that of a co-operative mentoring industry partner urging the airlines to deliver safety outcomes on its behalf.

“In the past there has been a mindset, both within CASA and some people in the industry, that safety was primarily the concern of the regulator and the regulations … this mindset is flawed and naïve,” Byron said.

The Senate committee choked over the “naivety” of anyone seriously expecting CASA to actually perform its legislated obligations, especially in relation to Qantas, and criticised Mick Quinn, the deputy CEO of operations at CASA for being somewhat blasé about the spate of maintenance issues at the airline.

Its report discloses significant concerns by the airlines over CASA’s conduct under Byron, yet also documents their desire for the hand’s off approach to regulatory compliance to continue, as expressed in the hearings and submissions taken week’s before the failure of this policy in relation to Qantas was revealed.

The Virgin Blue position could be summarised as supporting the committee’s recommendation for a board to be appointed to oversee CASA yet maintain its role as the ‘industry facing organisation’ that proved so useless in relation to Qantas.

The sanitisation of the Senate report has already started with a press release from the self-styled ‘independent’ Safeskies communications fostering body which is part funded by CASA.

Safeskies claims that Australia has no option under its participation in the International Civil Aviation Organisation to “go back” to the “days of antediluvian aviation regulation”.

This is a completely false representation of Australia’s ICAO obligations, as is its claim that the Senate has ‘endorsed’ the direction of CASA’s reforms.

Safeskies hasn’t responded to an invitation to withdraw the press release on the grounds that it isn’t supported by the actual report.

Peter Fray

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