Independent SA senator Nick Xenophon’s motion for a Senate Inquiry into pilot training and standards has been carried today with the support of the government and opposition parties and The Australian Greens.

The inquiry is expected to report by November 17 and has generated very strong expressions of support from Australian pilots concerned at declining standards of competency, experience and training.

Senator Xenophon also successfully introduced a private members bill to protect pilots and others from intimidation or work place penalties in relation to notifying Australia’s air safety regulator and accident investigator of reportable incidents such ground proximity warning alerts in airliners, or malfunctions in their control systems.

Put in the context of failures to report past incidents of this nature involving Jetstar and Tiger flights this bill, the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment (Incident Reports) Bill 2010 has the potential to set precedents for further reforms in the public administration of air safety in Australia.

This is the Notice of Motion by Senator Xenophon, which was overwhelmingly carried today.

I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I will move that the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee inquire into Australia’s current aviation training and flight standards and licence requirements for commercial pilots, with particular reference to:

1) Pilot experience requirements and the consequence of any reduction in traditional flight hour requirements on safety;

2) The United States’ Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 which requires a minimum of 1500 flight hours before a pilot is able to fly a commercial plane, and whether a similar mandatory requirement should be applied in Australia;

3) Current industry practices to recruit pilots, including Pay-for-Training schemes, and the impact such schemes have on safety;

4) Retention of experienced pilots;

5) Type rating and recurrent training for pilots;

6) The capability of CASA to appropriately oversee and update safety regulations given the ongoing and rapid development of new technologies and skills shortages in the aviation sector;

7) The need for public immunity for pilots to be introduced, in line with the United States and European approaches, to encourage pilots and crews to speak out about incidents in the interest of safety, and the need for greater protections for those who speak out in the public interest; and,

The reporting of incidents to aviation authorities by pilots, crew and operators, and how reporting processes can be strengthened to improve safety and related training, including the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment (Incident Reports) Bill 2010.

These are the key amendments of Senator Xenophon’s private member’s bill, referred to in the Notice of Motion:

incidents

The jail terms of up to 24 months contrast with the maximum possible fine for an airline for not notifying the Australian Transport Safety Bureau of a reportable offence within defined periods of $6600, including GST. In recent months the ATSB has failed to refer to the Commonwealth Public Prosecutor one breach each of this law by Jetstar and Tiger Airways, which in the latter case said it had decided that the Australian law didn’t apply to it.

The Senate Inquiry and the private member bill have the potential to drag the Australian authorities and Australian carriers into recognition of, and action to address the concerns both Boeing and Airbus have recently made about the problems of pilot inexperience and training standards.

Xenophon recently said that what Australia tolerates in terms of limited experience pilots being hired as first officers with as little as 200 flight hours is now deemed intolerable in the US, which has changed its laws to require at least 1500 hours experience in first officers flying for scheduled mainline American carriers.

In a country and airline industry which is ferociously change resistant and hyperbole dependant in relation to aviation reforms in general, this inquiry and the incident reporting amendments bill are extremely important.

The Australian and International Pilots Association this afternoon issued this statement welcoming the Xenophon initiatives. The statement also puts the incident reporting deficiencies of Jetstar and Tiger into context.

AIPA

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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