The deficiencies found in CASA air safety oversight by the ICAO audit are sufficient for the US Federal Aviation Administration to downgrade Australia’s rating under its International Aviation Safety Assessment program to Level 2, the same as Indonesia.

The FAA system has two tiers:

  • Level 1 is a country that complies with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). This has always included Australia and most of the developed world.
  • Level 2 is a country that does not comply with the ICAO standards, which includes Israel, busted late last year, as well as most of the third world.

The consequences of an FAA downgrade would disallow any expansion of flights to the US by an Australian carrier. In the current circumstances this would only be a problem for Virgin Blue’s V Australia plans for extra flights later this year and enhanced surveillance of our airlines by the US authorities to monitor compliance with its safety rules.

If the European counterpart to the FAA took similar action, and it usually does, it could adversely affect Qantas operations to London and Frankfurt and would impede the entry of Jetstar International on routes such as Rome or Manchester, which Qantas considers insupportable with a full service operation.

While “if” is an important word, so is the seriousness of the FAA in these matters, especially after calling Israel’s bluff over inadequate oversights by its CASA equivalents.

This seriousness appears to have been lost on the ministerial spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, whose response to the breaking of the report in Crikey blog Plane Talking over the weekend is:

“Australia has world class aviation safety agencies and an excellent safety record. This was confirmed by the recent ICAO safety audit, which found that Australia’s safety system was well above the global average in all areas.”

The graph was linked to in yesterday’s Crikey report and comprises part of the full audit report.

The graph is about as relevant as Sir Humphrey telling Bernard Woolly in Yes Minister to put another one over the media, presumably in the hope no one will actually read the audit report.

The FAA guidelines are that:

A Category 2 rating may involve a country lacking laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with international standards, or that its civil aviation authority does not meet international standards in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, or inspection procedures.

The ICAO report found that CASA lacked the technical expertise to carry out all its functions, did not properly train key people and was lacking in record keeping and inspections. This was confirmed by its special audit of Qantas after the ICAO audit, in which CASA discovered matters it hadn’t previously noticed about Australia’s largest airline.

It also found CASA deficient in its oversight of non CASA persons delegated to conduct inspections on its behalf.

The ICAO report tabulates areas in which CASA doesn’t meet all of its obligations under the ICAO annexes, and highlighted a lack of oversight of ETOPS procedures for twin-engined airliners.

That situation has since been corrected. For it to have been uncorrected for so long is astonishing given the extent of ETOPS flight by Qantas Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s.

Australia has largely agreed to meet all of the ICAO recommendations by the end of this year.

Will those undertakings be enough for the FAA? This isn’t clear at present. But they do require very significant changes to the culture of indifferent incompetence displayed by CASA for many years and all within a space of months.

They may also require a rethinking of the super ministry inclusion of air transport within Infrastructure, Regional Development and Local Government.

See Crikey Blog Plane Talking with Ben Sandilands.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey