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2. ABC report on Senate Inquiry release:

Senate scathing of air safety regulators

Naomi Woodley reported this story on Thursday, May 23, 2013 18:35:00

DAVID MARK: A Senate committee inquiry has cast serious doubt on the standard of Australia’s air safety regulators, warning of systemic failures.

The committee has been examining the way the Australian Transport Safety Bureau conducts its investigations and works with other safety agencies.

The inquiry was set up in the wake of a highly criticised report by the bureau into the ditching of a medical evacuation plane off the coast of Norfolk Island in 2009.

The Senators have delivered their own scathing assessment of that investigation and referred their report to the Federal Police for further review.

From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.

NAOMI WOODLEY: In November of 2009, a medical evacuation flight operated by Pel-Air ditched into the ocean off the coast of Norfolk Island, after repeatedly trying to land in bad weather.

The crash, and subsequent 90 minutes in the water, left the flight nurse on board, Karen Casey, with serious nerve damage, psychological trauma, and unable to work.

KAREN CASEY: It seems to be quite clear that there are big problems in our aviation industry.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Remarkably, all six people on the Pel-Air flight survived the crash, including the patient being taken from Samoa to Australia.

The captain Dominic James was initially praised as a hero, but after taking three years to complete, a report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau largely blamed him for the crash.

DOMINIC JAMES: It was quite unexpected to see that the focus of the investigation was solely upon me.

NAOMI WOODLEY: A Senate inquiry has now found there was little solid evidence to support that view. It’s called into question the behaviour of the ATSB and CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

NICK XENOPHON: If they’ve stuffed up in relation to this, where else are they going wrong, because this raises very serious systemic issues.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The independent Senator Nick Xenophon says the inquiry’s found there were two internal reports by CASA showing it knew about broader safety and management problems at Pel-Air. The inquiry says the reports should have been provided to the ATSB but weren’t.

The Liberal Senator David Fawcett says that’s been referred to the Federal Police for further review.

DAVID FAWCETT: CASA actually have an obligation to make the ATSB aware that documents exist that are relevant to the investigation and to provide those documents.

NAOMI WOODLEY: He and Senator Xenophon agree that the ATSB’s report was seriously deficient.

DAVID FAWCETT: By ignoring all of the systemic issues – the role of the company, the role of the regulator, looking at things like fatigue – by not covering those issues, there are very few if any safety lessons that came out of this report for industry.

And it’s those safety lessons that actually help prevent future accidents and those were completely absent from this process.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The inquiry has made 26 recommendations, including redrafting the information sharing agreement between CASA and the ATSB, and reopening the Pel-Air inquiry.

NICK XENOPHON: This report must not, cannot be, ignored because the issues it raises are simply so serious.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Mick Quinn is a former senior executive at CASA and an air safety expert. He says the problems with the Pel-Air investigation point to wider systemic failures.

MICK QUINN: If we know there are problems with oversight of a particular operator, there’s highly likely to be problems with oversight of other operators also. So what don’t we know? That’s the major issue, and that affects everyone, not just Pel-Air.

NAOMI WOODLEY: But Senator David Fawcett says travellers on big commercial airlines should not be alarmed.

DAVID FAWCETT: But I do believe that there are significant improvements we could be making in other areas, where passengers such as people who travel on aircraft as an emergency patient or an air ambulance transfer could have much higher standards and I think industry have a role to play with CASA in determining how those standards should be derived and then enforced.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The report does not vindicate the pilot of the medivac flight, but Dominic James says the findings are still a relief.

DOMINIC JAMES: There were things I wish I did better on the night, but I don’t believe that I operated in a vacuum and the Senate committee also feels the same way.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Both the ATSB and CASA are standing by their actions. Senator Fawcett says that’s disappointing, but not surprising.

DAVID FAWCETT: ATSB and CASA time and again, in the face of quite specific and damning evidence that was drawn from their own records and their own internal documents, have essentially said nothing to see here, move on.

NAOMI WOODLEY: But both agencies say they’ll give the Senate inquiry due consideration.

DAVID MARK: Naomi Woodley reporting.


I found this:

1. New York Times article on the PelAir ditching:


It summarises the current situation well.