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Is the ASRR “Air Turbulence” on the way or did it exist before??

The following is a 1997 article, which is as follows and I have brought up to date the data from it for 2013:


The article:

Air Turbulence – The Dogfight Over Safety In Australia

The Age

Wednesday November 27, 1996


WILL ROBERT’S next career move be in aviation or medicine? Is Dick really planning a comeback? Can John force all the directors to resign? Will the judge resist the pressure to quit? How will Leroy deal with his staff revolt? All this and more in the next thrilling episode coming to an aerodrome near you.

The power struggle over CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, is an unfolding story to match any of television’s long-running soap operas.

As with any TV soapie, everyone has forgotten the early episodes and the outcome is impossible to predict. But along the way there has been loads of drama, unexpected twists, plenty of vicious back-stabbing and a sizzling script that is almost unfit to print in a family newspaper.

The stakes could not be higher or more important; a budget of $79 million, the airworthiness of 9700 aircraft, the oversight of 260 aerodromes from outback strips to international airports, and the licensing of 37,000 commercial and private pilots and aircraft engineers.

We have seen ministerial recriminations and official criticisms of CASA, and allegations of negligence that followed the deaths of 16 people in the separate crashes of two small passenger aircraft operated by Monarch Air and Seaview Air.

All this is played out against the background of the continuing campaign by the federal Transport Minister, Mr John Sharp, to force the Keating Government-appointed CASA board to resign.

There is a sub-plot; the on-again, off-again bid by the high-profile Mr Dick Smith, former Civil Aviation Authority chairman, millionaire businessman and aviation adventurer, to win a new seat on the CASA board if and when the Senate passes Mr Sharp’s enabling legislation.

Mr Smith said he had put himself forward because he believed he had something to offer his country – but this week he was off the idea. He would probably go adventuring down to the South Pole instead.

Yet another sub-plot centres on the campaign of AOPA, the militant and extremely active Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that claims to have many airline pilots among its 11,000 members. Dick Smith was its president until his resignation in July in anticipation of his ascendancy to the enlarged CASA board.

The organisation wants to force administrative and policy changes on CASA, which the vice-president, Dr Arthur Pape, says is too powerful and dictatorial. He says that through a plethora of often-trivial regulations, CASA can arbitarily rescind licences and deprive pilots and aircraft engineers of their incomes without any legal liability for errors or malice.

Dr Pape confirmed that AOPA had been responsible for a campaign of telephone protest calls to the private home of the CASA chairman, Justice William Fisher that disrupted the family’s Easter holiday. However, he denied any knowlege of an incident earlier this year when a paper-wrapped bundle of bullets were “popped” by fire in the yard of the Industrial Court of New South Wales where Justice Fisher is chief judge.

The latest episode in this never-ending saga centred on the resignation of CASA’s director of aviation medicine, Dr Robert Liddell, after eight years in the job. The 57-year-old doctor and pilot is a veteran of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Western Australia and a former British airline pilot who doubled as its medical director.

It was a well-orchestrated public resignation, with Dick Smith faxing the media a copy of Dr Liddell’s letter to the director of air safety, Mr Leroy Keith. Dr Liddell’s claims of low morale, the disempowerment of line management, the undermining of air safety surveillance and cuts in the budget to fund unbudgeted office refurbishments, are sufficient to make it a front-page story.

A reconstruction of the resignation and the reactions of all the players show how easily it could have been lifted from a TV soap opera script.

The previous week’s episode ends with Dr Liddell jetting off to Perth for the weekend, having dropped his bombshell resignation in CASA’s snail’s-pace internal mail. Inexplicably, a copy of the letter falls into the hands of a colleague who faxes it to Dick Smith.

The subsequent episode opens with Dr Liddell at an air safety forum in the west where he shares the speaking platform and even has dinner with the man he criticises most in his as-yet-unopened resignation for significantly undermining air safety, his unsuspecting boss, Mr Leroy Keith.

Even before the story breaks, Dr Pape at AOPA writes to the federal Transport Minister to say Dr Liddell’s letter of resignation reveals a deep crisis within CASA that should be addressed as “a matter of extreme urgency”. He calls for Dr Liddell’s reinstatement.

After that, hundreds of CASA employees stop work in protest against management changes and plummeting morale and Mr Sharp orders Justice Fisher, the man he has tried all year to force off the board, to investigate Dr Liddell’s claims.

Mr Keith digs in and issues a statement that rebuffs all Dr Liddell’s claims and accepts his resignation. He doesn’t pull any punches, saying Dr Liddell appeared to have difficulty accepting that he was part of a larger organisation where accountability and management controls were being tightened.

Mr Keith adds that the tightening of the Office of Aviation Medicine’s $400,000 discretionary budget would limit Dr Liddell’s overseas trips to one a year and would reduce the hours of paid flying training available to medical officers.

It has become an unusually public battle with each side releasing to the media copies of letters to each other.

So a day later, Mr Keith makes it known that there will be no going back by announcing the appointment of Dr Jeffrey Brock, a former lieutenant-colonel in the army where he was senior specialist for aviation medicine, as CASA’s acting driector of aviation medicine.

After that, Justice Fisher mails to Minister Sharp a full reply to all of Dr Liddell’s claims. It denies there has been any substantial removal of funds from the operational areas of CASA or that air safety has been compromised.

Mr Sharp digs in, determined to get the last word, with another release stating that he is still not satisfied with the way CASA handles its problems. Dr Liddell, still at the centre of the storm, is just as up-front as the minister, the chairman and the director of air safety. He tells The Age that he meant his resignation to be public, having thought long and hard before deciding to sacrifice himself.

His qualifications as both a doctor and a pilot gave him a better chance than most others in CASA of finding a new career.

Before acting, he had sought reassurance from colleagues in CASA’s safety surveillance areas. “I knew I had a lot of support but I wanted to be absolutely positive that I wasn’t wide of the mark, that I was echoing concerns that existed for them as well and what I wrote wasn’t just my feelings.”

Asked to give examples of where he thought surveillance had been compromised, he said: “There are quite a few but I am not willing to talk about them because it will identify people in the organisation.

“I have clearly burnt my bridges but there are a lot of other people who have got to have a job. A lot of these people have qualifications that can only apply to the aviation industry and they have to look after their family needs.”

He says this year’s budget cuts were more than he could cope with – another 37 per cent from his discretionary budget after progressive financial pruning in previous years. He had had enough of CASA’s non-consultative management style, the imposition of directives without discussion, the failure to listen to operational staff who had talent and expertise on airworthiness and flight operations, all of whom were in touch with the industry. The budget cuts were affecting their ability to do their job.

He backs away, however, from any suggestion that the cuts could result in another Seaview Air type of disaster. He says the safety margin in Australia is wide but that doesn’t mean it should be eroded.

As the war of words builds, it is whispered into interested ears that Robert Liddell and Dick Smith are friends as if to suggest that the resignation is somehow part of the bigger fight over Mr Smith’s projected seat on the CASA board.

Mr Smith confirms a professional friendship and says that many CASA officers keep him informed. The moment he heard about Dr Liddell’s resignation from someone else in CASA, he phoned the doctor and begged him not to go through with it. “CASA needs people of Dr Liddell’s calibre. I told him to stick around because there are going to be some changes but he said there was no way that he would stay.”

It was then agreed that Mr Smith should make the resignation public, but even before he faxed the letter to the media, some journalists had received it from other sources.

Mr Smith said he, too, had had enough. He had volunteered for the worst job in the world because he thought he had something to contribute. Instead, there had been a campaign of innuendo suggesting that a seat on the CASA board would be his reward for supporting the coalition in this year’s federal election. “It is crap,” he said.

“We all believed that a change of government would mean a change of CASA but it hasn’t happened. It’s being run with Laurie Brereton’s (transport minister in the Keating Government) board as if he is still in power.”

He said CASA had been set up so its board was unaccountable and the minister who took ultimate responsibility for the portfolio had no control over its composition.

Mr Sharp, in his moves to force the board’s resignation, has claimed board members lacked aviation experience but CASA has struck back releasing career details of its board.

It shows Mr Keith had 30 years’ experience with the United States Federal Aviation Authority, and Captain Geoff Molloy was in aviation for almost 40 years, including a 13-year stint as flight safety manager for Qantas, the world’s safest airline.

Justice Fisher, a deputy president of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, was appointed for his legal and industrial experience; psychologist Dr Clare Pollock is an expert in human factors, safety and human error with an extensive list of publications to her name and Mrs Gabi Hollows, widow of the eye surgeon Professor Fred Hollows, was appointed as a well-travelled aviation consumer.

In May, an exchange of previously unpublished letters between Justice Fisher and Mr Sharp’s office demonstrated the fury of the struggle. Justice Fisher’s 15-page letter tells Mr Sharp to butt out.

He said that the CASA board was restructured by Parliament with equal emphasis on management, administration, the law and aviation expertise. Parliament gave the board effective independence by limiting the role of the minister in choosing who should be on it. “It is not open to the minister to create a different board or to redefine his own role without going back to Parliament and amending the act.”

“The belittling view sedulously pursued by the minister that we have a poor misguided board groping its way around about these hard technical issues is impossible to sustain.” Justice Fisher used the letter to hit out at AOPA for its telephone and fax campaigns, and its colorful language – describing CASA as animals with “penis deprivation syndrome”. He described AOPA as a noisy 5 er cent of the aviation industry, with its noise seemingly amplified by the resources of private wealth.

How can John hit back at the ascerbic judge? Is Arthur plotting another fax blitz campaign? Has the judge retreated to the bulletproof cloisters of his court? Will we ever hear again from Robert? Will Dick really fly to the South Pole?

INSIDE, wanting out

THE FLYING DOCTOR: Dr Robert Liddell.

The release of his resignation letter, damning CASA, was carefully orchestrated.

OUTSIDE, wanting in


Stands to gain a seat on a reconstituted board if legislation is approved.


The Minister, John Sharp: Determined to force board members’ resignations.

The Chairman, Justice Fisher: Brings legal and industrial experience.

Board member, Mrs Gabi Hollows: A well travelled consumer advocate.


Friday 15 November: CASA director of aviation medicine Dr Liddell sends his resignation letter to Mr Keith through internal mail. He claims that staff morale at CASA is low and air safety is being compromised by budget cuts. Copy is faxed by colleague to Dick Smith who says he then tried to persuade Dr Liddell to change his mind.

Sunday 17 November: Dr Liddell attends CASA forum in Perth with CASA director of air safety, Leroy Keith. They talk during the day and have dinner together but nothing is said about Dr Liddell’s resignation which by that time had not been seen at CASA headquarters in Canberra.

– Dr Arthur Pape, vice-president of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, has received copy of resignation letter and faxes a letter to Transport Minister John Sharp regretting Dr Liddell’s resignation and calling on the minister to re-instate him.

Monday 18 November: Dr Liddell’s resignation received at CASA. Dick Smith’s office in Sydney faxes Dr Liddell’s resignation letter to media.

Tuesday 19 November: Mr Keith issues statement rejecting Dr Liddell’s claims and accepting his resignation. Mr Sharp orders CASA chairman Judge William Fisher to investigate Dr Liddell’s claims.

Wednesday 20 November: Mr Keith appoints Dr Jeffrey Brock acting director of aviation medicine.

Thursday 21 November: Judge Fisher’s response to Mr Sharp gives detailed denial of Dr Liddell’s criticisms and says there has been no substantial removal of funds from the operational areas of CASA. The CASA board does not believe any evidence exists of safety being compromised by budget cuts.

Sunday 24 November: Mr Sharp says he is no closer to persuading Judge Fisher and the board to resign. He is looking at the board’s response to Dr Liddell’s claims but is still not satisfied at the way CASA handles problems.



* Oversees the development and enforcement of standards of aircraft airworthiness.

* Provides technical and engineering advice.

* Maintains Australian aircraft register.

Personnel Licensing

* Ensures pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers are qualified.

* Administers licensing and examination of flight crew and maintenance engineers

* Administers aviation medicine system.

* Provides advice to government agencies, aviation industry and public.

Airways surveillance and regulation

* Sets standards and monitors compliance for air services and private airport fire services.

Flying operations

* Oversees standards in air transport, general aviation, private flying operations, sports aviation, dangerous goods, cabin safety, airspace, aerodromes, meteorology, rescue and fire-fighting.

* Administers operations of foreign carriers in Australian airspace.

System safety and education

* Evaluates safety-related standards.

* Conducts risk analysis on regulatory and system changes.

* Has responsibility for safety education.

Licensed pilots
Licensed aircraft maintenance engineers                              5444
Licensed aerodromes
Australian-registered aircraft
including - helicopters
               - hot air balloons
               - gliders
               - ultralight aircraft
Airworthiness directives issued
Certificated aviation operators
Medical certificates to pilots and air traffic service staff     29,879
Total aircraft movements
(Source CASA 1995-96 annual report)
© 1996 The Age


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