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Safety information policy statement - Frequently asked questions
- Is Australian practice consistent with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Guidance on Mandatory Accident and Incident Notifications?
Yes. ICAO's requirements for the mandatory reporting of certain occurrences can be found in Annex 19 Safety Management whereby the internationally agreed view is that this type of information is intended for use not just by the accident investigator, but also by other organisations with a responsibility for ensuring aviation safety. To that end, in Australia the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) receives and stores this information and provides regular reporting to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
- Why does CASA need mandatory notifications information?
For two purposes:
- to have available information about occurrences to determine whether to initiate its own, independent regulatory inquiries and, where necessary, responsive action
- to maintain a database of occurrence information so that trends in aviation safety can be detected and, where necessary, safety action can be taken.
- What information will be disclosed to CASA in order for it to fulfil its functions?
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.
- What limits and protections will apply to CASA's use of the information?
Consistent with its Regulatory Philosophy, CASA may use the information as the basis for informing its need to initiate its own inquiries in the interests of safety. However, CASA will not rely solely on these reports 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, in taking any action, afford affected individuals and organisations natural justice.
CASA will not normally recommend the initiation of criminal proceedings in matters that come to its attention only because they have been reported under ATSB's mandatory reporting scheme. Where appropriate preventive, remedial or corrective action has not otherwise been taken, CASA may be obliged to take administrative action in the interests of safety.
- May CASA use the information it receives from the ATSB to acquire more information from or about an operator's Safety Management System (SMS)?
Yes. This is in accordance with Annex 13 Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation and recent amendments to Annex 19. However, under current legislation, CASA can also request information from or about an operator's SMS to help ensure that (a) an operator is complying with its SMS; (b) appropriate safety related actions and mitigations of safety risks are being undertaken; and (c) SMSs are not being abused or manipulated for improper purposes.
- How will CASA determine that the use of the information is in the demonstrable interests of safety?
There are a number of ways CASA can determine it is necessary to use the information reported in the interests of safety. This includes determining whether leaving the situation identified in the reported information unaddressed could lead to an unacceptable risk to air safety. The seriousness or urgency of the situation may make it unreasonable not to rely on the information.
- What limits will there be on the use of such information for different kinds of regulatory action?
As mentioned above, even if the information reported involves a serious safety concern requiring urgent attention, CASA is unlikely to rely solely on the reported information in taking such action as may be necessary or appropriate. CASA would generally gather all manner of evidence available to satisfy itself that regulatory action is required. In all cases, CASA will consider its use of this information on the basis of the principles set out in the Regulatory Philosophy.
- How will the information be stored and who will have access to it?
Australian Transport Safety Bureau
All accidents and incidents reported are provided to the ATSB's notifications team. The notifications team enter them in an electronic database that is a part of the ATSB's Safety Investigation Information Management System (SIIMS). Paper files of notifications are not retained.
SIIMS is a secure database. Only persons in the ATSB with a need to access it are authorised. These persons include the ATSB's notifications, investigation and research staff who only access the information for their safety functions. A limited number of corporate staff also have access to enable them to perform service related functions such as Legal and IT. All staff are trained in the confidentiality requirements applying to the information.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
CASA receives the information from the ATSB in de-identified form. CASA retains this information in an electronic database for the purposes of analysing trends and identifying actual or potential safety risks to which more immediate attention may need to be directed.
- What information will the agencies make publicly available?
In the interests of openness and transparency, the ATSB publishes a de-identified summary on its website of each accident and incident reported. Details such as the names of individuals and operators are removed.
When the ATSB receives requests under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) that encompass notification material, it consults with the providers of the information to inform its decision about whether the information should be released. In accordance with the FOI Act, consideration is given to the private or confidential nature of the information involved, as well as whether the release of the information could be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the ATSB's operations. If another agency has received information from the ATSB and that other agency should receive an FOI request for that material, that other agency would properly consult with the ATSB and, in many cases, the request would be transferred to the ATSB for assessment.
Accidents and incidents are reported for the purpose of maintaining and improving aviation safety. The information is only disclosed and used by the ATSB and CASA for this purpose. Accident and incident notifications are not voluntarily disclosed by either organisation for other purposes, such as civil litigation.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
In the absence of the kind of legislative protections governing certain information obtained and held by the ATSB, information in CASA's hands would be disclosed publicly only in accordance with the requirements, and subject to the limitations, of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
- Are these arrangements subject to change?
Agencies will continue to monitor the development and implementation of ICAO standards and recommended practices relating to information sharing and will consult appropriately before making any significant changes to existing arrangements.