A back door attempt to water down the absolute responsibility of airlines for the actions of their employees and criminalise pilots has been blocked in the Senate.

The government attempted to use the device of a Select Legislative Instrument (SLI) to amend the Aviation Transport Security Act 2005 to place off-duty airline flight crew outside the “class of person” who can legally enter the cockpit and transfer criminal responsibility from the carrier to the pilot-in-command.

The rights or wrongs of that move are irrelevant to the precedent it would set in breaking the universal code by which airlines are responsible for everything a pilot does.

The Australian & International Pilots Association bulletin to members circulated last week says:

AIPA certainly recognises that flight deck access for off-duty pilots is a significant issue. However, the precedent set by the transfer of criminal responsibility is an even greater concern and something which the Association simply can not leave unaddressed. Airlines control flight operations, standards, training and checking and have always borne the responsibility for the operational actions of their flight crew; any other approach would allow airlines to claim they were blameless for accidents and incidents. This is an important global principle and AIPA must do all it can to ensure Australian pilots do not undermine it.

AIPA combined with the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots AFAP in its AusALPA negotiating entity to win the backing of the government controlled committee to file a notice of intention to disallow the government sponsored SLI by pointed out that it had failed to meet its consultation obligations under the Legislative Instruments Act.

If AIPA (AusALPA) can convince the Opposition and one independent Senator that the regulations are flawed the changes to flight deck access regulations will be scrapped and cannot be resubmitted in similar form.

This would be a vital win.

If the precedent for transferring criminal responsibility away from airline managements is set it enables a future when Australian airlines, in terms of diminished safety and skills oversight, could legally get away with murder.