CASA CEO, Bruce Byron speech on Safeskies 2005
The CASA Safety Program - New Initiatives in a Time of Change
25 October 2005
The theme of Safeskies 2005, “Past Lessons – Future Safety”, is as relevant to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority today as it is to other organisations or individuals involved in aviation, perhaps more so. Indeed for an organisation such as CASA not to be conscious of its past performance, not to learn from that performance, both the good and the bad, and not to apply the lessons learned to ways of achieving better safety outcomes in the future, would be unacceptable.
Right now, like the aviation industry as a whole, CASA is going through substantial change. Some of this change reflects a recognition that what has been done in the past has been done well, but can be improved upon. Other changes acknowledge less than optimal past performance, and are evidence of a determination to do better in the future. And of course there are some things that remain sound and appropriate and don’t need to change, but these are usually less frequent, and need to be carefully tested before being given a ‘business as usual’ endorsement.
As it happens, I’m no stranger to change programs. I had primarily managed change programs in industry - and late last year initiated the most significant change program since CASA’s formation 10 years ago.
At a personal level, I am here to effect change in CASA – I made that clear 18 months ago, and to be quite honest I don’t want to be here unless we can achieve some change.
However, the most important issue in managing change isn’t the definition of what you are moving to - a new structure, different activities and so on - but keeping control of the change process itself.
I’ve learnt from experience that the riskiest form of change is excessively rapid change. If you have a choice you don’t do it too fast since that tempts failure. In my first 18 months at CASA I’ve spent most of my time looking at what we do and how we do it. This has been a period of measured analysis followed by careful planning and I make absolutely no apologies to anyone for taking this approach. Since July 1 st, however, change at CASA has commenced in earnest and this pace will pick up over the next six months. My task here today is to give you an idea of the scope of change, and as suggested in the title, the new initiatives associayed with that change.
The Role of the Regulator
While lessons from the past are at the forefront of informing the change process at CASA, that process is not based on a series of 'ad hoc' initiatives. It is being undertaken in a careful and considered way through the application of a number of guiding principles. Fundamental to those principles is clarity about the role of the regulator, at least as it applies in Australia.
There is a wide-spread perception in some quarters that the aviation safety regulator has the principal, and perhaps sole responsibility for aviation safety. In some places this perception extends that responsibility to checking each and every flight. Only a moment’s thought is required to understand the difficulty with this proposition.
The truth of the matter, of course, is that it is the aviation operator who has the immediate and direct safety responsibility, at least in a day-to-day operational sense. Indeed, it is the operator that has most to lose in the event of an accident, even if that is not always appreciated until after the accident has occurred. This is not in any way to diminish the regulator’s role and responsibility, but rather to put it in the proper perspective. The regulator has a very important role and in Australia, the legislation makes that clear.
The regulator can develop a framework of aviation safety rules and regulations, and put in place systems for surveillance and enforcement. It can provide education and training, it can manage proficiency testing, it can check flight crew operational performance and it can oversight the safety systems of operators. It can undertake surveillance and can take punitive action when laws are breached. But in the final analysis it is the individual operator, the individual engineer, the individual flight crew member who has the immediate responsibility for delivering a positive safety outcome for individual flights on a day-by-day basis.
Given the economic, social and political structure we have in Australia, the regulator cannot in isolation provide the level of aviation safety expected by the Australian government and the Australian people. Whether we like it or not, aviation safety is a shared responsibility between the regulator and the industry, and the goal for the regulator has to be to achieve the optimal balance of those responsibilities. This is easy to say, but in a dynamic and changing industry rather more difficult to achieve.
If we accept that it is the operator that has the ultimate duty of care in providing a safe operation, then in defining the role of the regulator, it is vital to understand how the operator delivers that outcome.
Firstly, we expect the operator to satisfy all safety regulatory requirements – the bottom line safety issues stipulated in the rules. The role of the regulator on this issue is easy. Ensure the rules relate to bottom line safety issues, check operator compliance with the rules, and if necessary, conduct enforcement action. This is, if you like, the policeman role of the regulator.
But the operator cannot simply stop at compliance with safety regulations in satisfying that duty of care. Anyone who has managed an aviation operation will understand that there are a multitude of other factors that can affect safety risks, and that are not covered by regulation. So what is the role of the regulator in these matters? Under Australian aviation safety legislation CASA’s role is clear. We must ‘encourage a greater acceptance by the aviation industry of it’s obligation to maintain high standards of aviation safety’. In other words we can’t just stop at the policeman role.
An immediate question for an aviation safety regulator defining or re-defining its role lies with the resources that are available to it, and how those resources, should be prioritised. In Australia there has always been a general understanding that protection of the traveling public, the passenger, comes first. This is a very clear public expectation.
In practice, however, it is sometimes possible to lose sight of this goal and to find resources being diverted to more ‘interesting’ areas of aviation, such as experimental categories, ‘war birds’ or perhaps hang gliding. We know the public wants the highest levels of safety for passenger-carrying flights, particularly high-capacity operations. Yet in the past CASA has devoted more of its resources to the general aviation sector, including sport and recreational aviation. That is changing.
It became clear to me last year that the logical expectation that CASA would look after the passenger as our first priority wasn’t clearly articulated through internal policy or guidance. So, we have reviewed the aviation sectors for which we have a safety responsibility and carefully allocated a level of priority to each with, in our case, passenger-carrying at the top. We have publicised the priority hierarchy so that our own staff, the industry and the public can all understand the way in which our resources will be focused. Of course, such a priority listing cannot be set in stone, and it needs to have the flexibility to take account of changes in the aviation environment, such as increased or decreased risk in particular sectors.
A New Structure
Having established the resource priorities it is necessary to make sure the regulatory organization is best structured to address those priorities. We have recently been through that process, with a substantial re-structuring of CASA to ensure that our strategies, operational focus , our management and our staffing are all directed towards the priorities we have set ourselves. In fact, our new structure is aligned to the key segments in our aviation industry, so that we have a sound structural basis to underpin the ‘shared responsibility’ approach.
Once the regulator has its priorities in place, and has an effective operating structure through which to address those priorities, the relationship with industry mentioned earlier can be given the attention it deserves.
The Regulator’s Contribution
In the Australian environment the aviation regulator’s contribution to aviation safety, its effectiveness, depends fundamentally on its ability to influence the behavior of aviation industry operators. While some industry behavior can be imposed, the most effective means of achieving a positive safety outcome involves the development of a more co-operative working relationship between the regulator and the safety-focused members of the aviation industry.
Such a co-operative relationship will be enhanced if:
- The industry believes there is a genuine safety benefit accruing to it arising from the regulator’s actions and requirements, with the regulator’s focus to be on issues that genuinely address safety, not things that simply create paperwork for industry with little real safety benefit.
- Where possible, rules are clear, concise, and outcome based, allowing industry some flexibility as to the method by which they meet the required standards.
- Safety standards and rules are developed with a level of consultation which genuinely takes account the views and expertise of the industry.
- There is a perception that the regulator is actively attempting to limit any adverse impact its actions may have on the industry, with positive safety outcomes delivered at reasonable cost, in terms of both money and other resources, and provided in a professional and timely manner.
- The regulator’s services, decisions and requirements derive from fair, consistent, and systemic processes which eliminate bias or favouritism.
- Industry believes the regulator genuinely consults about changes, and that it will seriously consider industry suggestions for making the regulator more effective.
- There is a willingness by the regulator to delegate to industry the administration of lower priority segments, and the responsibility for signing-off on much of the industry’s adherence to standards, while retaining responsibility for oversight of safety systems and for scheduled and unscheduled operator audits.
- Industry perceives that the regulator’s staff act with professional respect and courtesy.
In some senses the relationship is a ‘partnership’, with both parties, the regulator and the industry, having a common safety goal, and in a position of mutual dependence in the achievement of that goal. It only becomes a real partnership if the regulator and the industry can work together in an atmosphere of professionalism and mutual respect, and not as protagonists.
It is important, of course, not to take the partnership concept too far. The regulator must retain the capacity to be independent, professional, and at ‘arm’s length’ from the industry when that is appropriate, and to be fearless in enforcing rules and imposing sanctions when such action is required.
However, the goal should be to develop the concept of shared responsibility to such a high level that strong enforcement measures are rarely required. Indeed, in an ideal world the need for robust enforcement and punitive compliance action would be a reflection of the failure of the shared responsibility approach.
Obligations on the Regulator
It is important that this shared responsibility concept should not be allowed to diminish the accountability of the regulator as a stand-alone organization. In the Australian context, it is essential that the regulator continues to meet the accountability standards placed upon it.
- That there is a demonstrated adherence to all legal requirements, including the range of obligations contained in the enabling legislation, as well as other requirements that must be met by statutory organisations of the Australian government.
- That all decisions which have the potential to impact on the industry are based on processes which are transparent, systematic, and justifiable in terms of safety outcomes.
- That regulatory processes are defensible in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness.
- That there is an ability to demonstrate a positive contribution to safety, and an absence of outcomes where the regulator has failed in its duty of care to detect and deal with obvious safety risks.
- That the regulator keeps the stakeholders properly informed of its activities, and provides appropriate and timely responses to external requests for information.
Some New Initiatives
Having described some of the principles that have guided the approach to change at CASA, it may be appropriate to say something of the individual changes.
The making of safety regulations is one of our significant functions. In terms of lessons learned the history of regulatory development in CASA has not been one bathed in glory. There have been a number of programs aimed at regulatory reform over the near decade that CASA has been in existence. And each failed to deliver, for a variety of reasons. That represents quite an expenditure of resources for limited output, and that is unacceptable.
The most recent attempt involved a ‘big bang’ approach aimed at getting the whole spread of regulations reviewed and re-launched as a package. This approach was understandable because many regulations are cross-linked, so to develop one suite without another related suite meant potential difficulty. But the result was a massive effort tying up substantial resources across CASA and severely limiting the availability of those resources to be directed to endeavours which arguably might have a more direct and immediate influence on safety. And regulations were being produced which were overly prescriptive, excessively complex and in many cases offered minimal contribution to safety. I wasn’t prepared to accept that.
So the lesson here was that unless luck is on your side, a ‘big bang’ risks a subsequent implosion. The initiatives arising from that have included restructuring the way we do things to place the people working on regulatory development into the operational areas that work directly with the relevant industry sectors. Rather than trying to solve all the regulatory issues at once, we will be using small focussed teams to tackle individual regulatory packages, without ignoring the inter-relationship issue. We will also be careful reviewing, in association with industry representatives, all new regulations to make sure that they are outcome based, are simple, and make a genuine contribution to safety.
Maintaining the regulatory development focus, in the past we had an aversion to looking overseas for guidance. The line usually run was that the Australian aviation environment is special, and it was not feasible to pick up the regulatory structure of another aviation nation and apply it here. And in fairness there were limited options for suitable models. However, the newly formed European Aviation Safety Agency is taking a fresh approach to regulatory development, embracing a number of the rule-making priorities mentioned earlier, so we have established a small industry / CASA team to work with EASA on a trial program to test whether one particular set of their new rules may have some application here. This is something of a change for us, and a further recognition of the need to learn from past lessons.
On the issue of surveillance there had been a past focus on undertaking audits of aviation organisations on a scheduled basis, which ensured that everyone was audited at least once every three years. This was heavily process driven, and had little to do with safety outcomes. We had our technical people spending much of their time in the office writing up paper work rather that out in the field. That is in the past. We now have developed a program of increased surveillance through significantly increased industry contact.
In the large air transport sector we initiated a program last year where, on the basis of careful risk analysis, we target specific issues across the industry in a standardised approach. We publish the targets that have been established. This reflects a new approach. Rather than seeking to catch people breaking the rules, we would rather they remedy their operations, if necessary, before we get to them. They have a safer operation, we have a simpler audit, and prosecution is minimised. We will supplement this program with audits of individual operators based on the safety risk we judge, on objective grounds, that applies to each.
Some Implications for CASA
The increased priority on passenger carrying inevitably means that resources will need to be reduced in other areas where CASA has had a strong presence in the past. We are looking at the scope for a greater level of self administration in, for example aerial agriculture and sport and recreational aviation.
Wehave not been good at allocating our people and resources, and at measuring the success or failure of their activities. And we have not always been the best at ensuring we have the right people doing the right jobs. That is to change.
We have commenced a process of testing the work we do by asking what it contributes to safety, and how much difference it is making. We need to be able to show how our resources are focused on dealing with known or likely safety issues. If we can’t make the safety link, we should not be doing that function.
Activities that are shown not to add sufficient value will cease altogether. All CASA activity is being reviewed and the results may necessitate some hard decisions. To ensure we have a true and honest measurement of all CASA activity, market testing of all non-core functions is being undertaken. We are currently reviewing everything we do against the safety test and asking: ‘do our activities contribute to safety, do they meet our priorities and do they build better industry relations?’
An outcome of these reviews that I expect to see is an outsourcing of some of our low risk regulatory service functions to suitably qualified individuals or organisations within industry.
We will not turn our backs on any sections of the industry, but we cannot - and will not - continue devoting equal time and energy to areas of the industry that pose little risk to public safety. Importantly, we must be consistent in our interpretation and application of the rules so that industry sees us as 'one CASA,' not a collective of competing groups.
While we must not see CASA as primarily a service-providing organisation, when industry needs permissions or approvals they have a right to expect them to be delivered smoothly and cost effectively. No one likes paying more money, but if we provide a service, it is reasonable we receive a proper return. The other side of that coin, however, is that as we move towards increased cost recovery, our processes must be transparent, and the industry must receive reasonable value for the money paid for the service. Where possible and appropriate, industry should have the opportunity to have services provided by suitably qualified and experienced industry people, as well as by CASA, so there is an alternative. And where only CASA can provide a particular service, we will do in accordance with service standards that I expect to see published, for all our regulatory service functions by June next year.
From a high level redefinition of the role of the regulator to the very pragmatic need to get more of our technical people back ‘on the tarmac’, CASA is very much embracing the Safeskies theme by acknowledging lessons learned, and by building on those lessons as a basis for substantial change towards improved safety outcomes.
Bruce Byron AM
Chief Executive Officer
25 October 2005