The primary function of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is to maintain and improve transport safety, including aviation. The ATSB collects, holds and uses a range of information for this purpose.
The ATSB is a part of Australia's aviation safety system and the information gathered by the ATSB may be provided to other agencies for the specific purpose of maintaining and improving aviation safety. It's an additional legislative function for the ATSB to cooperate with these agencies.
Safety information policy statement
Having considered feedback the ATSB and CASA received on proposed changes to mandatory reporting arrangements,* both agencies have agreed on a safety information policy statement clarifying current arrangements and providing the basis on which further input will be sought from the aviation community to establish an appropriate framework for future development consistent with international best practice.
A principal source of safety information is the mandatory reporting scheme established under the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act). The scheme gathers information on occurrences which endanger or could endanger aviation safety. The information is gathered so that it can be used by those with responsibilities within the safety system to discharge their responsibilities to maintain and improve aviation safety.
The scheme requires 'responsible persons' (including aircraft crew, owners, operators, air traffic controllers, licensed aircraft maintenance engineers, ground crew and airport operators) to notify the ATSB of accidents and safety incidents ('safety occurrences').
Where the duty to report rests with an individual, it can be fulfilled by the individual notifying the operator who employs them. The operator then has a duty to pass the information on to the ATSB.
How the ATSB uses safety information
The ATSB uses safety information to assist in its determination of what to investigate for the purposes of improving safety.
Any information that is the subject of an ATSB investigation will only be used in accordance with the provisions of the TSI Act which provides significant protections to information acquired by the ATSB in the course of its investigation.
The ATSB also uses safety information for the purposes of safety research and analysis. The results of research and analysis are generally made public, but in such a way that the information is either de-identified or is otherwise protected.
ATSB and CASA information sharing
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is constituted under the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (CA Act). The primary object of the CA Act is to establish a regulatory framework for maintaining, enhancing and promoting the safety of civil aviation, with particular emphasis on preventing aviation accidents and incidents. CASA's primary function under the CA Act is to conduct the safety regulation of civil air operations in Australia and the operation of Australian aircraft outside Australian territory.
Consistent with the objective of maintaining and improving aviation safety under the Australian aviation safety framework, the ATSB recognises CASA needs access to a range of information about aviation safety occurrences that is collected and held by the ATSB.
How information is shared
The ATSB informs CASA about accidents and serious incidents as soon as the ATSB is informed. The information may contain details such as operator names, registration numbers, times, dates, locations and a description of the event. The ATSB aims, wherever possible, to avoid directly identifying individuals.
CASA is also provided daily with a redacted report of all occurrences entered into the ATSB database. The report contains standard information about occurrences notified to the ATSB, including aircraft registration, so that CASA has enough detail to gather its own information about the occurrence. It does not contain a detailed narrative.
An automated weekly transfer of summaries of information entered in the ATSB's database during that week is also provided to CASA. The aggregate summary does not include identifying information such as aircraft registration, but provides enough information for CASA to be able to analyse safety trends, and to identify actual or potential safety risks to which more immediate attention needs to be directed.
Why we share information
CASA uses safety information from the ATSB principally for two purposes: to have sufficient information about an occurrence to decide whether to initiate its own, independent regulatory inquiries; and to maintain a database of occurrence information so that trends in aviation safety can be detected and, where necessary, safety action can be taken.
Limits on how CASA can use information
CASA may use information reported under the mandatory scheme as the basis for informing its need to initiate its own inquiries in the interests of safety. However, CASA will not rely on the report in taking action unless it is necessary to do so in the demonstrable interests of safety and where there is no alternative source of the information practicably available to CASA.
CASA will not normally recommend the institution of criminal proceedings in matters which come to its attention only because they have been reported under ATSB's mandatory reporting scheme. The exceptions will be in cases of conduct that should not be tolerated, such as where a person has acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with gross negligence.
In taking any action, CASA will afford affected individuals and organisations natural justice.
This policy is consistent with contemporary practice in leading aviation States. It is also in line with the new ICAO Annex 19 - Safety Management. Standard 5.1.1 of the Annex requires that:
- each State shall establish a mandatory incident reporting system to facilitate collection of information on actual or potential safety deficiencies.
Recommended practice 5.3.1 states:
- State authorities responsible for the implementation of the State Safety Program should have access to appropriate information available in the incident reporting systems.
The regulator and the accident investigator both have responsibilities with respect to the implementation of the State Safety Program. This policy outlines what each agency requires accident and incident information for in order to be able to perform their respective complementary functions. It also makes clear what limitations currently govern the use of information by CASA. Having regard to international developments, the ATSB and CASA will seek the views of industry participants and the wider Australian aviation community on the implementation and further development of this policy.
* In 2012, the ATSB sought comments on proposed regulatory changes covering mandatory reporting of accidents and incidents and confidential reporting of safety concerns in Australia. CASA sought comments on proposed new Part 119 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations dealing with the certification and management of Air Transport Operators.