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Senate hearing, CASA and Part 145 – Engineering Services

The following is from senate estimates on 18th November 2013:

Part 145 [Engineering Services]:

Senator FAWCETT: On engineering services, part 145, I have had feedback from a number of companies that since we have gone down the CASA part 145 route a number of countries in the region, led by Singapore, but now I think it is extended to Thailand, the US and Tahiti, I believe, have decided not to recognise the maintenance that is done here, so the people who have overhauled engines or propellers for regional countries have not been able to continue that work, because there is not a bilateral relationship between Australia and these other countries that recognises our part 145. Can you comment on that?

Mr McCormick: We have actually in fact negotiated a bilateral with Singapore just recently—actual exporting into their maintenance markets of activities as covered by a few more areas than just ourselves. We have numerous bilateral agreements in some of the areas you have just mentioned, particularly the FAA and South Korea, and we have just signed one with Singapore.

Senator FAWCETT: How recent was the one with Singapore, because this meeting I had with industry was about two months ago.

Mr Boyd: This was back in April.

Senator FAWCETT: Well, I have had quite recent meeting where people are describing the fact that they are losing markets because of a lack of recognition. I am happy to go back to them and get the specific details, but there is an issue if we are not able to export services because of regulatory disconnects between CASA and other agencies.

Mr McCormick: I do not know whether Mr Boyd has anything to add to that, but we have been progressing bilaterals and personally this is the first I have heard of this.

Mr Boyd: Maintenance services comes under the ICAO Annex 6 and 8. ICAO has recognised that one of the problems we have across the world is that whilst we may recognise Air Operators Certificates, for example, on the flying operations side, on the maintenance side the way the annexes are set up that is not allowable at the moment, or not able to be done.

The way the regulators are addressing it at the moment is with individual bilateral agreements between authorities or nations, as the director has said.

I know it is on the work program for the ICAO panel to look at how that can be expedited within the next couple of years, but it is not specifically an Australian problem. It applies across the world.

Senator FAWCETT: In terms of signing up bilaterals, is that something CASA initiates or is it something you action at the request of somebody else?

Mr McCormick: We are actively pursing these. We are pursuing some with other countries at the moment. Sometimes they approach us, but we are both at the same time wishing to progress something. Some of them are a little bit more complicated, because they get into geopolitics more than just aviation issues, particularly with Europe and to a lesser extent the United States.

But in the region we have a number of others, including with Hong Kong, that we are progressing, and we are actively trying to engage with everyone we can to progress these. As I say, with the bigger market of Europe, we have had numerous meetings with the European Commission representatives and the ASA representatives about this, but the matters are at a higher level than the safety agencies can address.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay. Can we come back to the issue of part 145 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations and the approvals of the expositions that go along with that. Since our last meeting, I had a specific email from a company in Brisbane that talked about the fact that several airworthiness inspectors have come through and offered different opinions. So the first exposition that was put forward was not approved.

Certain directions were given. The next inspector who came through gave a completely different slant on that. I know this gentleman has written to CASA. He wrote to a Mr Keith Thompson within CASA in November seeking some action on that. Given we had this discussion just a week ago and here is a very live example that CASA should be aware of internally—of industry complaining about this lack of standardisation—could you talk to me about this?

If you do not have the specifics in hand, I am happy to come back to it in half an hour or so, when other people have had a chance to talk to you, but I would like to get on the record what CASA is doing to overcome these issues that industry are consistently highlighting with me about a lack of standardisation among people who are giving approvals.

Mr McCormick: As you say, we have discussed this numerous times in the past. Standardisation is a major issue that faces all regulatory agencies, and we certainly are facing it. On specific part 145 issues—and I am not personally aware of Mr Thompson’s company—

Senator FAWCETT: No, no; Mr Thompson works for you. Keith Thompson works for CASA, and he is the point of contact that this company wrote to.

Mr McCormick: I see. As far as interpretation of part 145 goes, we have done a lot of work on standardising the airworthiness inspectors around this. There are still instances where some people do put their own spin, if that is the right word, on the interpretation of the regs, but we are trying our very best to stop that happening; and, when it is brought to our attention, certainly, Operations Division and our Airworthiness and Engineering Branch, or AEB, also take that seriously. With interpretation of standards, we do not necessarily have as much of a problem as we did, but some of the requirements about what a document or exposition should look like—whether it should look like this or that—or the nuances of it are still an issue which we are working on. I acknowledge that, but it is something which we can only get around by education and dealing with the issues as they are raised.

Senator FAWCETT: I accept that you have an education process going. But, for companies that are spending time and money trying to satisfy differing opinions across regulators, what is their recourse? Your process might take a week; it might take a year. What is their recourse to get a fair and just outcome, if CASA cannot actually align its own people so that industry are working with one set of goalposts as opposed to goalposts that keep moving, which costs them money?

Mr McCormick: I appreciate that. They can always come to me. We can always get this. As I said, I am not aware of this particular one. I am aware of standardisation issues. As I think we have discussed before, I have visited some 14 or 15 country towns through most of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria over recent times, talking to people actually in the industry about what their complaints are, and we do see this.

We do not see it as much as we did. Certainly, with 730-plus maintenance organisations, we are not seeing a great many complain. However, I acknowledge there are issues. It is an education issue, from our point of view. They can always come to me. And, if they have got a decision which they do not like and the decision would mean that they have exhausted their internal processes, such as you are talking about bringing to our attention, then of course their recourse is the AAT. However, I am unaware of a decision being made that has then been overturned, if you will, within our airworthiness inspectors themselves. But we do have a standardisation issue; we continue to work at it.

Senator FAWCETT: What sort of time frame do you think is reasonable for industry to expect? As I say, this is probably about the fourth or fifth company just in the last couple of months that has come to me talking about the fact that they have had to spend a lot of time and money trying to satisfy different voices within CASA. You have identified you want to fix the problem.

If this individual, for example, came to you and said, ‘Here is the issue,’ within what time frame do you think it would be reasonable for you to get back to them and say, ‘Of the three opinions you’ve been given by CASA staff, here is the one I want you to meet,’ so they actually have clarity around where they need to go and where they should invest their money so that they can get on with actually running their business?

Mr McCormick: The first part of that is that we have to make sure that the complaint we get—and I do see this quite often—is not just a misinterpretation of the regulations, in that someone points out one part of the regulations and someone points out another part of the regulations, and the industry may see that those parts of the regulations are in conflict, when in fact they are not. We see quite a bit of that.

By the time someone comes to me and says, ‘I have been told A and I have been told B and I have been told C,’ provided the staff who said A, B and C are available—let’s assume they are—we should be able to turn that around in a couple of weeks. I am assuming, first off, that the industry has understood what is required and that we do not have what looks like a different interpretation but in fact is not—it is an interpretation of different areas. If it comes down to a pure flavour, shall we say, that somebody has versus somebody else’s flavour, we can resolve that quickly once we have the information.

But, as I have said before, if any organisation feels that this is happening, they can bring it to my attention, they can bring it to the Industry Complaints Commissioner—they can bring it to anybody in CASA as far as that goes—and it will be resolved by both standards and our operations divisions. The issues around inspectors—yes, we are taking action in some areas on that. As I said, that is an education issue and a control issue for us.