The US Federal Aviation Agency’s rehabilitation of Israel as a Level 1 state in relation to air safety ought to be read as the clearest of warnings to Australia to get its act together without delay.

If Australia is busted down to Level 2, which on the evidence, it should be, the consequences include the prohibition under US law of code shares between Australian flag carriers and those of America.

The managements of Qantas and Virgin Australia need to carefully consider what losing their respective code share deals with American Airlines and Delta would mean, and ask whether the craven acceptance of the dismal state of affairs in CASA, the ATSB and AirServices Australia is worth the damage such a downgrade would inflict on their shareholders, employees and commercial reputations.

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When Israel flouted its responsibilities and was busted for almost four years, it failed to lobby its way out of trouble, which was quite surprising. But as Wikileaks showed earlier this year, when Australia provisionally failed the necessary audits to retain Level 1 status, our lobbying efforts saved the day.

Since then matters if judged by recent events, have gone backwards in CASA, the ATSB and AirServices Australia, and the risk of a safety downgrade and all of its commercial consequences should be treated (as it may already be in high places) as being severe and imminent.

This is the FAA statement concerning Israel, released overnight:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced that Israel complies with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), based on the results of an October FAA review of Israel’s civil aviation authority.

Israel is now upgraded to Category 1 from the Category 2 safety rating the country received from the FAA in December 2008. Israel’s civil aviation authority worked with the FAA on an action plan so that its safety oversight system fully complies with ICAO’s standards and practices.

A Category 1 rating means the country’s civil aviation authority complies with ICAO standards. A Category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority – equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping or inspection procedures

With the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Category 1 rating, Israeli air carriers can add flights and service to the United States and carry the code of U.S. carriers. With the Category 2 rating, Israeli air carriers were allowed to maintain existing service to the United States, but could not establish new services

As part of the FAA’s IASA program, the agency assesses the civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that operate or have applied to fly to the United States and makes that information available to the public. The assessments determine whether or not foreign civil aviation authorities are meeting ICAO safety standards, not FAA regulations

In order to maintain a Category 1 rating, countries with air carriers that fly to the United States must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

This is the situation in Australia, in terse form:

CASA is accused in multiple places, including under parliamentary privilege before the Senate, of conspiring with the ATSB, to withhold vital safety information contrary to the provisions of the Transport Safety Information Act of 2003 in order to protect the reputation of operator Pel-Air in relation to the ditching of one of Westwind jets off Norfolk Island in 2009, in the final report into the crash published by the ATSB on 30 August.

The ATSB has admitted that the report is not one it can be proud of, through its chief commissioner Martin Dolan, and the general manager, air safety investigations, Ian Sangston, deposed that he didn’t even know what safety questions had been asked of the survivors, but signed off on a report that did not even say whether the safety equipment on the jet worked. (It didn’t.)

AirServices Australia has recently lost at least two airliners in Australian controlled airspace, and in the case of the Virgin Australia 737 that it lost track of for most of the way between Sydney and Brisbane, lied about to the media, and has not addressed evidence that the notification of the incident to the ATSB was so inaccurate in the first instance that it had to be amended after the fact.

There are many more areas of administrative and competency failures, as regular readers of Plane Talking would be aware.

The damage the situation in CASA, the ATSB and AirServices Australia can do to life, property and the economic interests of this country are considerable. They are conveniently ignored in the general media and public life. The inconvenience that will arise without determined and urgent corrective action cannot be understated.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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