CASA’s deputy director for Air Safety Mick Quinn appeared on 7’s Today Tonight current affairs program last night to make a series of confident claims about CASA’s capacity to do its job and oversee the safety of Qantas operations.

The claims, that Australia had an aviation safety system second to none in the world and that is recognised internationally as having some of the most competent people in the industry, are contradicted by last year’s ICAO Audit of Safety Oversight and by CASA’s own special audit of Qantas which reported in August 2008.

Quinn’s appearance on Today Tonight related to the release of 60 out of approximately 1600 pages of documents the program had sought under the Freedom of Information Act, relating to defects in Qantas aircraft.

That application is part heard and is being fought in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by CASA. It has been in progress for two years, and has been joined with a similar application by the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) for documents relating to overseas maintenance procedures involving Qantas jets.

Contrary to Quinn’s claims, CASA is on notice by ICAO to rectify a substantial list of deficiencies by the end of this year, including its inability to carry out its safety tasks. The CASA audit, which was suppressed on commercial grounds, found issues with Qantas that it had been unaware of for years, which occurred during Quinn’s tenure at the safety regulator.

It was preceded by an admission from Qantas that it had failed to complete a compulsory airworthiness directive on the forward pressure bulkhead of the six Boeing 737-400s mainly deployed on Canberra routes for five years.

This in turn lead to the situation where the former head of engineering at Qantas, David Cox, described the safety directives as not having any safety significance, and CASA claimed it had no responsibility to ensure that these compulsory safety orders were obeyed.

The federal secretary of the ALAEA, Steve Purvinas, says the documents released under the application so far, showed that CASA’s oversight of foreign maintenance appeared to be unsatisfactory.

He drew attention to the brevity of two audits that a single CASA inspector had conducted on the Singapore International Airlines Engineering Company and another on the ST Aerospace Engineering enterprise at precisely the same time and same day even though they were several kilometres apart.

Purvinas has conducted a long campaign against the outsourcing of Qantas maintenance to offshore facilities.

However the critical issue that arises from CASA’s resistance to releasing all documents concerning defects in Qantas airliners and overseas maintenance processes is “why?”.

What is CASA hiding? Why doesn’t it think the public should see these documents?

A Qantas spokesman says:

Qantas has complete confidence in the safety of its fleet. We are subject to rigorous Australian and international safety standards and are audited regularly, in Australia and around the world.

In addition to our strong self-reporting culture, we have a working relationship with CASA, as our Australian regulator, and we believe its processes to be among the most rigorous in the aviation industry.

Safety and compliance are our number one priorities. We meet, and in many cases exceed, all of our obligations to all regulators – CASA and the many international authorities with which we hold approvals.

Which means of course, even Qantas has no reason to resist their release.