CASA–Defence relationship and challenges in management of airworthiness and flight safety issues
Defence Airworthiness Convocation
Canberra – 6 December 2012
Thank you for the invitation to join you this afternoon. Forums like these provide a terrific opportunity to strengthen an already strong relationship between two leading Government agencies and share perspectives on some critical regulatory issues.
Strong working relationship
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Department of Defence (Defence) have had a long history of engaging cooperatively on high level issues affecting Australian aviation since the days of the Civil Aviation Branch in the Department of Defence, Australia’s first Commonwealth agency with responsibility for civil aviation, which was established in March 1921.
Since then, CASA (and its predecessors) have continued to develop a constructive working relationship with Defence and regularly engage with the Australian aviation industry through a number of high level working groups and committees, for example, the Aviation Policy Group (APG), the Aviation Implementation Group (AIG), the Airspace Consultative Forum (ACF), Regional Airspace and Procedures Advisory Committee (RAPAC), the Australian Strategic Air Traffic Management Group (ASTRA) to name a few.
As we all know, CASA and Defence operate separate and distinct regulatory systems, applying to civil and military aviation activities respectively. As a practical matter, however, the two systems can and do overlap, particularly where they involve to Air Traffic Control(ATC), aviation navigation and land aids, airfield/aircraft rescue and fire fighting services and where military airport infrastructure is used by civil aircraft operators.
Further, there is increasing overlap when considering aspects of aircrew, maintenance and engineering licensing/qualifications and aircraft airworthiness, about which I will be saying more in a moment.
It is the Government’s desire to harmonise, where possible, the regulatory outcomes of CASA and Defence regulatory systems to support improved aviation safety, efficiency, consistency of service and capacity for all Australians.
We cannot achieve this outcome working in isolation. Recognising the greater depth of overlapping activities between civil and defence aviation, both agencies entered into an ‘Agreement on Promotion of Aviation Safety and Airworthiness’ in 2010. This agreement is intended to improve and enhance the quality of the relationship between CASA and Defence and to better coordinate regulation of Australian aviation safety, and I believe it has gone a long way towards achieving that objective.
This agreement is not just a piece of paper. Practical effect is given to its intent through a number of Implementing Procedures that sit under the agreement.
Regulatory Reform Program
No presentation I make these days would be complete if I didn’t mention CASA’s Regulatory Reform Program. We are moving more quickly today than ever before to replace the Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs) with the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASRs).
When this program is complete, there will be new modern regulations covering operations, flight crew licensing and continuing airworthiness and maintenance, amongst other critical areas of activity.
In terms of airworthiness, the new regulations will be clearly refocussing on the operator’s responsibility for the continuing airworthiness of their aircraft. I understand Defence is looking closely at the work CASA is doing in this area and may undertake a similar review of its own requirements.
Updating the rules is part of the ongoing process of improving aviation safety. Rules cannot remain static. As safety knowledge and understanding improves, the rules must evolve to reflect better safety practices and to incorporate new technology.
CASA seeks to align any new regulations as closely as practicable with International Civil Aviation Organization standards and recommended practices, and to harmonise where appropriate with the standards of other leading aviation countries, unless differences are justified on safety risk grounds. In some areas, it is Australia that is well and truly in the lead.
Naturally, some aviation people are asking why change the regulations and what are the benefits? The overarching aim is, of course, to create a safer aviation system in Australia. But what does that mean?
In simple terms, regulation can be seen as any authoritative measure that seeks to change the behaviour of individuals or groups. Why do we regulate? Again, put simply, it’s about minimising safety risks in the public interest—in our case, aviation safety risks.
CASA’s functions are set out in section 9 of the Civil Aviation Act 1988. Among other things, these functions include:
- developing and setting Standards
- developing appropriate enforcement strategies
- issuing certificates and licences, registrations and permits
- conducting aviation industry surveillance.
Interestingly, none of the above functions apply to State aircraft that operate within the Defence environment and this is central to my remarks here today.
Unlike Defence, CASA does not operate or maintain aircraft. Our whole aim is simply to further strengthen the current regulatory structure to deliver improved safety outcomes by addressing known and likely safety risks.
Challenges in management of airworthiness issues
The concept of Continuing Airworthiness was established by ICAO and in general terms it covers all of the processes designed to ensure that, at any given time in their operating life, all aircraft comply with the airworthiness requirements established by the State of Registry.
From CASA’s perspective, this is a relatively straight forward matter, in that under Australian rules, the Certificate of Registration holder is responsible for the airworthiness and maintenance of its aircraft. In this context, I am only talking about the adoption by the Certificate of Registration holder of specifications, methods, procedures and tasks, using information provided by the organisation responsible for the type design, to prepare a maintenance program suitable for its operation.
As I mentioned before, the new regulations provide for a clear delineation between the responsibilities for airworthiness and the performance of maintenance, in accordance with the approved maintenance program which, although still the responsibility of the Certificate of Registration holder, is another issue.
In the Defence arena, however, the correlation between CASA’s regulatory requirements, for airworthiness, as they apply to Civil registered aircraft, and those requirements that are applied to State aircraft are not perhaps clearly visible.
CASA is aware of the growing trend for Defence to purchase or lease civil type certificated aircraft and to place them on the State register. This in itself is not an issue. However, the decision to engage organisations to undertake work on the basis of CASA authorisations they hold is causing us some concern, because we believe this entails an element of risk over which CASA has no regulatory control.
Under the Civil Aviation Act, CASA’s obligations only extend to Australian registered aircraft. This obligation of course extends to the oversight (surveillance) of activities conducted in relation to these aircraft.
In general terms, State aircraft are not considered Australian aircraft for the purposes of the civil aviation regulations. Our obligations and prerogatives, therefore, do not apply to, or in relation to, State aircraft.
One assumes that Defence purchase or lease civil type certificated aircraft and place them on the State register for the efficiency and cost benefits involved, which is quite understandable. These arrangements, however, have recently caused CASA to question how the airworthiness of these aircraft is being controlled and by whom? Clearly CASA is not performing this function.
From CASA’s perspective, we believe that the current methodology used by the Defence to induct, operate and control the continuing airworthiness of a civil type certified aircraft, is perhaps less than ideal when it comes time to return that aircraft to the civil register with a valid Australian Certificate of Airworthiness (CofA).
In order to issue an Australian Certificate of Airworthiness to an aircraft that has been operated in the Defence environment, CASA needs to be satisfied that the aircraft still conforms to its type design.
The fundamentals behind this requirement are that the aircraft has been operated, maintained and/or modified and repaired within the accepted civil design standards applicable to the aircraft, and there needs to be clear evidence to support this having occurred. The question that then arises is how do we (CASA) as an organisation satisfy ourselves that the aircraft still conforms to its type design when we effectively have no visibility of the processes being used?
As I said before, in the civil aviation regulatory environment, it is the Certificate of Registration holder who is responsible for the continuing airworthiness of their aircraft and it is the Certificate of Registration holder who must ensure conformity to type design. They do this by ensuring, among other things, compliance with an approved maintenance program and the requirements associated with design modifications and repairs.
For CASA’s part, in the civil environment, we review/assess the operator’s procedures and review/audit information provided by the operator and maintainer in order to establish compliance with regulations and, on that basis, ongoing conformity.
In the Defence environment, however, it appears that, while the overall operation and airworthiness of an aircraft is controlled by Defence under its own airworthiness management system, various functions are performed under contractual arrangements with civilian organisations.
What has become apparent in more recent Defence activity involving CASA, is the assumption by each of our respective organisations that the other is overseeing relevant airworthiness activity when that may not necessarily be the case.
When it comes to Defence aircraft returning to the civil register, CASA has been expected to accept automatically that conformity is assured with little or no recourse to necessary information from the lessor, operator, maintainer and/or the state ‘regulator’ as the case may be, simply because a CASA approved organisation (AMO) has been used.
Clearly this is not acceptable to CASA because much of the information required by CASA to demonstrate that those elements of airworthiness, that would have otherwise existed during civil service, have been maintained in a manner that ensures conformity before an Australian Certificate of Airworthiness can be issued, is not being provided.
I understand that some progress is being made by Defence and CASA experts to address of these concerns, and I certainly encourage this complementary work to continue in order to ensure our respective responsibilities and better safety outcomes are achieved.
Aviation safety, like the regulations under which aviation-related activities are governed, is never static. We must always be ready to meet the challenges of the future and strive for better safety outcomes.
I can assure you that it is not CASA's intention to disrupt or interfere with the responsible operations of Defence or any other aviation entity. As the aviation industry matures and grows, economic decisions will come to play a bigger role in maximising available efficiency and cost benefits.
Clearly, however, these decisions need to be taken without compromising our respective obligations for which CASA’s part is to ensure comprehensive, consistent and effective regulation to enhance civil aviation safety.
Forums like this provide excellent opportunities to share ideas and experiences between Australia’s biggest aviation agencies at the highest level, and contribute to the broader knowledge-base—civilian and military—essential to a safe and viable aviation industry.