A Senate Inquiry into Angel Flight has found issue with both the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). "The report contains lessons that the ATSB must heed and recommendations that CASA needs to action," said Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick.
"Centre Alliance has moved in the Senate to disallow a CASA regulatory instrument. Centre Alliance’s motion is due to be voted on in the next sitting week," said Senator Patrick. "Noting the findings of the Government controlled Senate Committee, I anticipate either changes to the instrument or for the disallowance to be supported in a bipartisan manner, given the report of the Committee was bipartisan".
The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee found that the ATSB, which by and large is considered to be a world-class safety investigator, erred in its approach in considering the circumstances of tragic Mount Gambier Angel Flight crash. While the actual accident was properly dealt with, the ATSB’s passing analysis of Angel Flight was superficial and inadequate.
The Senate Committee found that the statistical analysis of the accident rate was flawed.
The ATSB had found "that Angel Flight had an elevated risk of fatal accidents". However, the Committee found "When considering accident rates (rather than fatal accident rates) per 10,000 flights, the data suggested it was unlikely that the Angel Flight accident rate was higher than private flights, when non-passenger positioning flights and passenger carrying flights were considered together".
"It was a case of lies, damned lies and statistics," said Senator Patrick.
The Committee also criticised ATSB's methodology in finding that perceived pressure on Angel Flight pilots was identified as one of the "biggest issues facing volunteer pilots".
The Committee was "alarmed" that the ATSB had made such a finding when "the ATSB had not consulted with any Angel Flight pilots in reaching its conclusions" and "the ATSB reached its conclusions about perceived pressure without any data on the number of cancelled Angel Flight operations." The Committee's view was that cancellation of a flight by a pilot, for example due to weather conditions, speaks directly to how pilots deal with pressure.
The Committee also made two recommendations to CASA, which has a legislative instrument before the Parliament in the wake of the Mount Gambier Angel Flight crash.
It found that the CASA instrument passing through the Parliament needs to be amended to remove additional maintenance requirements "particularly when maintenance concerns played no role in the 2011 and 2017 Angel Flight accidents". It also made a recommendation to permit mentor pilots to participate in Angel Flight missions.
"Centre Alliance's disallowance was lodged in February. As recently as September I met with CASA and offered to withdraw the disallowance if the nugatory maintenance requirements were removed and mentoring was to be permitted. I hope CASA is listening to both me and the Senate," said Senator Patrick.
"Angel Flight provides an invaluable service to regional communities who have families that require non-urgent but critical medical services or families who need disabilities assistance for their loved ones. Angel Flight cannot be disrupted by unnecessary regulation," said Senator Patrick.
"CASA has an over regulation issue, so much so that the Government is progressing a bill through the Parliament that legally requires CASA to treat safety as primary, but to be mindful of the need to maintain a healthy industry."
"In the past CASA regulations have drowned general aviation, and that has to change."
The Senate Inquiry report can be found here.