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2005 – Lockhart River [LHR] Metro

This Inquiry occurred after the ATSB Inquiry, which left as many answers as questions. The Insurance payments were still being finalised in late September 2011 and during 2012.

The Coroners Inquiry [Coroner Barnes assisted by Ian Harvey], raised a range of issues where the regulator [CASA] was deficient in it’s surveillance of TransAir. Issues of GPS and fuel availability for the aircraft at LHR were not canvassed and still require answering to the satisfaction of the surviving families.

ATSB Report:

ATSB report LHR May 2005 –

Coroners Report:

coroners inquest findings – cif-lockhart-river-aircrash-20070817

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Comments by Paul Phelan:

CASA directed to issue Trans Air AOC

Paul Phelan , 28 January 2010 – 12:15 pm3 Comments

Author’s note

This article has been altered following dialogue with  Mr Robert Collins. The altered sections are in bold type.

Victims’ families affected by the May 2005 Lockhart River air disaster are dumbfounded at an Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) decision on January 22. They believe the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has seriously bungled its handling of an application for a foreign aircraft air operator certificate (FAAOC) to PNG-based Trans Air Ltd, an associate company of Trans Air Australia, whose Swearingen Fairchild Metroliner crashed during an approach to Lockhart River in bad weather with the loss of all 13 passengers and two crew.

In April 2009 CASA had rejected Trans Air’s application for an FAAOC, without which foreign operators cannot conduct commercial air operations in Australian airspace or across Australian borders. Transair had then sought an AAT review of the refusal decision.

The AAT observed that: “The argument for CASA relied upon these propositions:

(a)  the statutory requirements to obtain permission or authority to operate a foreign aircraft into or out of Australia come within the ambit of ‘the safety rules’;

(b)  Trans Air has repeatedly failed to comply with those requirements;

(c)  the requirement in s 28(1)(a) of the Civil Aviation Act of satisfaction that Trans Air has complied with the safety rules cannot be met;

(d)  similarly, that conduct means that the Tribunal could not be satisfied of future compliance with the safety rules because of the likelihood of similar conduct in the future.”

In support of its refusal CASA had cited numerous issues related to safety concerns within its areas of responsibility. However affected parties now believe the regulator failed to present a competent and convincing case from information already available to it as a result of its involvement in the Lockhart River accident.

In a 34-page document detailing reasons for the decision, AAT Deputy President P E Hack SC was highly critical of numerous CASA assertions, conclusions and rule interpretations in support of its decision. He also noted that: “neither the Statement of Facts and Contentions lodged by Trans Air, nor that lodged by CASA satisfied the requirement that a statement must clearly and concisely set out thefacts upon which the party relies and any contentions to be drawn from those facts.” (emphasis added by AAT.)

CASA had admitted to a Senate Committee enquiry into CASA administration that Transair had continued to operate under its Australian AOC in the wake of the Lockhart River accident, because it had insufficient evidence at the time to show that it was unsafe to permit them to do so:

“Subsequently, CASA determined that there were maintenance problems of a significant nature, but not demonstrably sufficient to support action for an immediate suspension under the ‘serious and imminent’ risk provisions of the [Civil Aviation] Act, the only effective alternative remedy available.

“CASA initiated a show cause process, eventually determining that there were grounds warranting cancellation of Transair’s AOC which occurred on 24 October 2006. Transair lodged an application for review in the AAT (which required no showing that they had a sustainable case) and the automatic stay provisions took effect immediately. Transair was operating on the basis of that stay when CASA was provided with additional information not previously available. It was only with this information in hand that CASA was able to initiate action to suspend Transair’s AOC on ‘serious and imminent risk’ grounds. Shortly after this, Transair decided to voluntarily surrender their AOC rather than to contest CASA’s decision in the Federal Court.”

Trans Air operations have since been conducted within the regulatory regime of PNG, which is modelled on New Zealand’s aviation regulations, and under an AOC issued by the PNG Civil Aviation Authority:

“A major exception has been the undertaking of numerous medical evacuation (medivac) flights from PNG to Australia and other regional countries, and the transport of gold bullion from PNG to Australia. Operations in Australia, including regular public transport operations, were undertaken by an associated company, Lessbrook Pty Ltd, trading as Transair Australia.”

Much of CASA’s case against Trans Air revolved around the conduct of the Medevac flights without the necessary Australian approvals, which Trans Air claimed were verbally authorised by former CASA official Arthur White – which Mr White has subsequently denied.  CASA had relied on that issue to reach a determination that Trans Air was not “likely to” comply with safety regulations; however the Tribunal points out that the regulation requires that the operator be “capable of” compliance.

The Tribunal also observed: “The decision was expressed to have been made on the basis that CASA was no longer able to accept the validity of certificates and licences issued by the PNG aviation authorities. The decision, it was said, ‘in no way reflects on the standards and capabilities of Trans Air’.”

CASA had also objected to the involvement in the PNG company of major shareholder Mr Les Wright, despite his having transferred his shares to his son. The Tribunal noted “evident animosity between Mr Wright and CASA’s officers.”

Numerous submissions on the company’s behalf challenged the decision, in particular information put forward by aviation consultant Robert Collins. Mr Collins was formerly a pilot with Transair’s parent company Lessbrook, who joined CASA’s predecessor in 1990 and was its Group General Manager, General Aviation Operations at the time of the Lockhart River accident. However Mr Collins asserts that: “Transair was solely the responsibility of the Brisbane Airline Office and not the National or any local GA Office.”  He retired on 29 September 2006, but later appeared as an advisor to CASA during the subsequent Coroner’s inquest.

In his consultancy role Mr Collins had since conducted various audits of Trans Air’s operations including a “review of safety and management systems” in March 2009, and his favourable reports, offered in support of Trans Air’s application, were accepted with voluble praise by the Tribunal, who concluded:

“The Tribunal sets aside the decision under review and remits the matter to the respondent for reconsideration in accordance with a direction that a Foreign Aircraft Air Operator’s Certificate be issued to the applicant subject to the conditions ordinarily imposed by the respondent upon certificates of that type.”

  • As a wife who lost my husband on our fourth wedding anniversary, I am truly disgusted and disturbed by CASA’s handling of the application for Transair’s foreign aircraft air operator certificate which has led to a favourable decision by the AAT for Transair. How can a company that was directly involved in one of the worst civil aviation accidents in Australia – killing 15 people and was found to have a negligent safety record – be allowed to fly in Australian skies again? I am sure I speak for all the victims families that Transair should not be allowed to fly in Australia ever again.

    Carmel Piccolo says: 17 May 2010 at 5:03 am
  • Now why does all this sound so familiar? And why do I feel like spewing?

    Sarah fairchild says: 17 May 2010 at 3:48 pm

  • Was it the crew flying the plane or the directors?

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