CASA CEO, Bruce Byron speech at the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia annual conference
CEO at the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia annual conference
Conference opening speech
8 June 2004
It is a little over six months since I joined CASA, although of course it was not exactly an unknown quantity for me. I had been a Board member for two years, and subsequently served as chairman of the Aviation Safety Forum. I was also appointed by the Minister as ‘industry advocate’ in terms of the introduction of the new regulations. And I have worn a number of industry hats since my Airforce days 20 years ago, and, like most of you, I have been involved with CASA as part of earning my daily bread.
So I came to CASA with a built-in bias in favour of the merits of consultation and communication, and with a fairly comprehensive exposure to the industry and its thinking. I also have an aerial agriculture pilots rating, although I must admit it has had little use.
So, let me say a few words about what I am doing, and how I plan to manage the strong reform agenda the government has set for us. And then I’d like to say something about a few new developments.
Changing the way we do business
I think there may be some who expected a new CEO at CASA to do something dramatic on day one, maybe slash and burn, blood on the floor, new structures and reporting lines, new radical ways of doing business. Certainly that sort of thing is an option, but it rarely achieves anything of lasting value. You tend to lose as many good people as bad, you create fear and loathing, and you take the focus off the things you are supposed to be doing, in our case enhancing aviation safety, and place it on internal politics, self-preservation and scape-goating, and that is not very productive. There has been change at CASA, you will see more, but it will be considered, measured and meaningful. If you look carefully you will already see evidence of that
Like most people who have been around for a few years I have formed my own views of management practices. And that experience has meant that where I am able to put my own mark on CASA’s management processes and governance I will try and satisfy criteria that I believe to be to be important, such as:
The need to provide strategic direction, with a clarity of purpose;
The need for operational management processes to focus on individual accountability; and
That all management activity, especially resource allocation, to be subject to independent scrutiny.
All this without subjecting the organisation to excessive processes which if allowed to develop, can have a choking effect on development and individual initiative.
The management structure that has emerged is straightforward, with reporting lines moving from bottom to top, and control lines from top down.
Let’s start with governance. CASA no longer has a Board. The role of the CEO has been extended to take up much of what the Board used to do, and I have quite deliberately given priority to taking strategic responsibility for CASA. I have passed responsibility for the day-to-day operational running to my deputy, making him Chief Operating Officer. At the end of the day I am responsible for the whole organization, and I recognize that by maintaining a very close contact with the COO, and having a formal monthly meeting with the COO and his senior managers, so I am close to what is going on.
And the other key thing from a governance viewpoint, has been the abandonment of a well-developed structure of executive level committees. Not exactly slash and burn, I admit, but very important in that committees can be a great way for individuals to shirk individual responsibility and accountability in favour of the collective view of an amorphous group. This has changed at CASA and all our senior people are now individually responsible for what they do, and I will hold them individually accountable. And that is a philosophy I want to see progressively introduced down the management structure.
The trick, of course, is to establish a structure that allows the CEO to maintain focus on the key role of strategic guidance and high level communication, but at the same time maintain just the right amount of touch with the day-to-day management of the organisation for which I have, under the Minister, ultimate responsibility. To go too far one way is to involve myself ‘in the weeds’, but to go the other way is to be too focused on the horizon, and not be aware of the larger rocks and crevices on the path ahead.
So we have a layered decision making process. I, as CEO make the key strategic decisions, the COO makes the key operational decisions. That is a change, and you need to take account of that when you deal with CASA at the higher levels.
I believe it is important for the CEO to have ultimate financial control. To put this into practice I have taken the finance function out of line management, and the Chief Financial Controller now reports to me through the COO, within the Office of the CEO structure, which I will mention shortly.
Office of CEO
This changed emphasis allows me to focus on the wider picture as well as giving me the opportunity to talk much more directly with the industry, to hear your views directly without the risk they may be ‘filtered’ through layers of management. With the CEO’s principal focus being on strategic issues, and in that sense at one remove from line management, there is a need for an element of independent strategic level support and advice available to the CEO.
To enhance this ‘arms length’ approach, I have established a small Office of the CEO. The core members are, fairly naturally, the CEO, and the COO, with a small team who are independent of CASA’s divisional management structure but will work closely with divisional management to support the achievement of CASA’s strategic aims. This is not a matter of setting up a parallel structure, which would be pointless and counterproductive, but rather giving a new capacity, at the strategic level, to take an independent view of the issues facing CASA.
As you will see, the roles we have defined so far relate to research, communications, operational analysis, and strategic planning. Some people are in place and we are recruiting others.
The Civil Aviation Act
To draw your attention to the Civil Aviation Act risks an immediate glazing of the eyes, but it is important to us in that it is the legal basis for what we do. I wonder how many have sat down and read CASA’s core functions as defined by the Act . My point in showing you these is that nowhere does it say they all have to be done separately, and as discrete activities. We can take a holistic approach, and we can take an outcomes-oriented approach, not a process oriented one. And that is what I plan to do.
May I say a brief word about enforcement. Why would I want to spoil a happy conference like this by mentioning enforcement, and CASA’s recently expanded enforcement options? Well, there is actually a ’good news’ story here. Enforcement, like taxes, will always be with us, and certainly while there are people who break the rules. While I’m sure there would be no such people in this industry sector you may be interested, in a theoretical way, that the recent changes to the Act introduced new enforcement measures with a focus on achieving a wider and more appropriate mix of regulatory tools. These will allow CASA the flexibility to take a more measured response, rather than having only the options of ‘extreme prejudice’ or a slap on the wrist. The new regulatory tools include an automatic ‘stay’ of suspension or cancellation decisions not involving an immediate risk to air safety. There has been an introduction of a demerit points system for more minor breaches of the regulations.
The new provisions also enhance procedural fairness. People affected by CASA’s administrative decisions will have the opportunity to argue their cases before an independent arbiter, either the Federal Court or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The aim is to focus firmly on fairness and natural justice without in any way restricting CASA’s ability to take action on safety breaches. In my view, the balance is a good one. There has been no limitation on CASA’s ability to take appropriate safety action, but there is increased flexibility in terms of penalties, and greater protections in terms of procedural fairness, and I do think that is a good story.
To support an increased focus on ensuring that our operational decisions are based on objective analysis, I have established, as you have seen, the position of Strategic Research Adviser, in the Office of the CEO, to undertake and coordinate practical research initiatives into aviation safety. How might we do this? One way is research scholarships. In the last few years I have been impressed by the quality of the new generation of aviation professionals entering the industry, including many with aviation technical or management tertiary qualifications. These are likely to be the future leaders of the industry, including CASA. To link our need for better analysis on which to base our decisions, and to encourage and support some of our brighter aviation talent, I have approved the offering of four 4 scholarships, each to the value of $25,000 to be awarded to bright postgraduate students in aviation studies and related fields to undertake practical research in aviation safety.
I believe these are important initiatives where CASA can show some leadership. But the value of initiatives such as these can be dramatically multiplied by working in cooperation and collaboration with industry. This might be from something as simple as AAAA proposing useful topics for research projects, right through to jointly working with us on a major exercise, as we have already done, and which I will refer to later.
CASA and the Aviation Industry
I see aviation safety as a shared responsibility between CASA and the industry. We need an industry that is willing and able to meet its part of those safety responsibilities. And we need a CASA that is both independent in the discharge of its safety surveillance and enforcement obligations, but at the same time is responsive to the needs of the industry, and is prepared to assist the overwhelming majority of those of you in the industry wanting to do the right thing. And we should do this by, among other things, being responsive, by genuinely consulting, by showing flexibility, by providing simpler rules, by listening, by educating, and operating in an atmosphere of mutual respect
CASA’s relationship with the aviation industry is a cornerstone for our future success. One of my highest priorities has been to work towards establishing the best possible professional working relationship between CASA and the aviation industry and also between myself personally and industry players.
Each month I meet with about ten aviation organisations or individuals to listen to a range of perspectives relating to CASA and its functions. I have met with Phil as part of that process, and there is a standing invitation for anyone in the industry to come and talk to me. I will listen but I won’t necessarily promise anything.
We also need an industry which can develop and grow, and not be constrained by rules that don’t do anything for safety.
As far as formal consultation processes are concerned, the existing industry consultative bodies, the Aviation Safety Forum and the Standards Consultative Committee will remain in place and be strengthened. But it is not enough to set up mechanisms to facilitate communication and exchanges of ideas. There needs to be a cultural environment that welcomes industry views and regards members of the industry as a useful and valued source of information. This is consistent with statements I have previously made regarding the extensive reservoir of technical expertise that resides in industry, with people such as yourselves.
My view is simple. Our focus should be on core safety-related functions. And in executing that focus operationally, we should be looking for deliverables that have a direct safety benefit and permit industry to deliver a safer outcome.
Among those deliverables are rules that are simple and easy to follow. As many of you will know we are currently devoting substantial resources to rewriting virtually all of our regulations, with the theme ‘Safety through Clarity’. A lot of real progress has been made in updating the rules and making them simpler, and our people have been working very hard to get the process finished, consistent with maintaining a level of consultation that makes sure we get the rules right.
We at CASA have to recognise that a part of our operations is in the provision of charged services to the industry, and for that activity there are clients who, like in most other spheres of business, are entitled to a high quality of service, and should be treated with professionalism, and with proper consideration and courtesy. I have passed that expectation, personally, to most CASA staff.
The better we get, the less you in the industry will have to complain about.
It has long been a priority for CASA that we focus our attention on protecting the travelling public, and that remains the case. And yet we still find ourselves with a significant involvement in the private pilot segment of the industry, experimental aircraft, warbirds and, dare I say it, agricultural flying, where passenger carrying is not a major issue. I want to put more effort into finding ways to focus our resources where they will make the greatest impact on aviation safety, without, of course, leaving a safety vacuum in any particular segment of the industry. We need to look for innovative solutions.
Consistency is something close to my heart, particularly having been a consumer of CASA's activities as a member of industry. And given the geographical diversity of your membership, and the fact that members fall under number of CASA Area Offices, the potential for inconsistent interpretations is quite strong. This is an issue we need to address.
How can your Association be part of this reform agenda?
You are already part of the Regulatory Reform process, and you have had a lot of input to that through the NPRM process and the Standards Consultative Committee, among others. The input has been great, and is a fine example of CASA and the industry working towards a common goal. I know you would like get Part 137 out the door and operating, without waiting for the Part 91 review to be finalized, and nothing would give us more satisfaction than to be able to do that. But my people tell me the effort and resources involved in moving material out of 91 and into 137 with consequential amendments to existing legislation, then reversing the process, makes such an exercise untenable. What I can assure you is that CASA will consider all the appropriate exemptions you need until Part 137 comes into force.
We have worked with you to develop the generic Standard Operations Manual, which gives AAAA members use of a manual pre-accepted by CASA. I understand this has been quite a success.
In association with AAAA we established benchmarks so we have a baseline against which we can measure our performance in terms of what we said we would do. And I understand our performance has mostly been pretty good, and that is how I want it to continue.
We have had in place the Agricultural Unit. My understanding, both from my people and from those of you who have benefited from having a dedicated team focused on your industry, is that the initiative, which very much started as a trial, has worked well. I think we may have taken our eye off the main game on this one over the last little while, and focused more on process and demarcation than we have about outcomes. And that has led to concerns about the future of the Unit. I can’t think of a better opportunity to say to you today that the Agricultural Unit will continue, and that I want to see its coverage expanded so that it can operate as far as possible as a one stop CASA shop for your industry. I have asked my deputy and CASA’s Chief Operating Officer, Bruce Gemmell, to bring this into effect.
At this conference last year CASA committed $50,000 towards the re-introduction of an updated Aerial Application Pilots Manual. I know Phil has done a lot of work on this and others in both CASA and AAAA have been involved. Everyone is to be congratulated. In a remarkable coincidence of timing, I am able to say that this fine initiative has been completed, it is here, hot of the presses, and it is with us today. I am very pleased to be able to officially launch it at your Convention. I understand copies will be available from the Association shortly. Make sure you get one.
These are all really good things, and they have been done jointly and in a spirit of harmony with a common goal of enhancing safety. Where might we go from here?
Earlier I said something about CASA not really needing to focus its attention on people such as yourselves, that we should be focusing our resources on the safety of the traveling public. How might the AAAA be involved in that?
Well, one way may be for you to take a greater responsibility of day-to-day administration of your industry, its routine surveillance and enforcement, and possibly even some regulatory service tasks. I know this one has been kicked round from time to time, but I would like to get it up there, front and center, and have it seriously examined.
And I don’t think the best way to do it is to have CASA invest a whole lot of time and effort into putting together a template that might be imposed upon you, a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario. That is the ‘big brother’, ‘CASA knows best’ approach that I would like to hope is a thing of the past. I believe it would be much more useful, and much more in harmony with the vision I have for a more productive working relationship with industry, if you were to come to us with a proposal, if you are interested.
Now, this can’t be back-of-the envelope stuff, it has to be carefully worked through, it has to be practical, and it has to recognize there are real safety obligations that have to be met. And it has to recognize that there are big issues to be resolved if you as an industry association are to take on, without fear or favour, a major responsibility for the safety of your members, and with it the possibility of sanctions against those who pay your salaries, and whose own incomes depend on their being in the air, not grounded or fined.
Worth it to get CASA off your back? Maybe, but we would still be around. However, our focus under such a regime would be on checking you have the right processes and procedures in place to ride herd on your members, and that you do keep up to the mark in terms of surveillance and enforcement obligations. And we would reserve the right to get involved if we think that is necessary.
What’s in it for CASA? Well frankly our main interest, and where we can protect the greatest numbers is not with agricultural pilots. As I mentioned earlier we have a different approach to different risks. To be brutal, you operate in circumstances where you are not likely to do too much damage to other aircraft, to impact literally or figuratively on centers of population, or cause problems for passengers or innocent bystanders. So, if we can pass a certain amount of responsibility to you, we can devote more of our resources to looking after the interests of the traveling public, which is where our priority needs to be.
So, if I have not frightened you off, please give it some serious thought. And if you do come to us with a well developed and realistic proposal, you have my assurance that we will give it the most serious consideration, and will look at it on the basis of ‘why not’ rather than ‘why’.
Now, having set you a challenge, I am very happy to do what you asked me here to do, and that is to formally declare the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia’s Conference officially open.
Chief Executive Officer
8 June 2004