Transparency of Australian/European Aviation Safety Oversight Called into Question

Aircraft Engineers International (AEI) welcomes the news that the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) has been successful in its three year legal battle against the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), in order to gain access to safety related audit reports of CASA approved foreign maintenance bases.

The legal challenge arose after poor quality maintenance was discovered on Qantas aircraft after being maintained at approved facilities in Singapore and Hong Kong. One Qantas aircraft allegedly departed an approved foreign maintenance organisation with over 450 open defects. The maintenance facilities have a stamp of approval from the Australian Aviation Authority (CASA) as well as additional approvals from various aviation authorities around the world.

Due to the seriousness of the safety lapses and concern at how these companies obtained a Government seal of approval, the ALAEA using the freedom of information act requested all CASA audit reports on the companies concerned. The response from the Australian national aviation authority to this and other similar incidents was to spend over 300,000 Australian tax payer’s dollars trying to prevent the release of information into the public domain.

The implications of this case are far reaching and will eventually take on a global perspective. The evidence produced so far clearly highlights a standard of work well below that which is acceptable, yet the organisations concerned continue to operate under multiple approvals obtained from various national aviation authorities around the world. In fact, there is a link to EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) who have issued European stamps of approval to the companies in question.

AEI have been campaigning for some time on the issue of European aviation safety and transparency. European regulators supported by the EU continue to maintain that audit information is commercially sensitive and could potentially be damaging to an airline operator. Yet whilst this information remains withheld more and more, European airlines make use of cheaper, EASA approved foreign based maintenance facilities.

Of course in principal this is perfectly acceptable as long as the facilities do in fact come up to and align with European standards. AEI General Secretary Fred Bruggeman said that “the outsourcing of maintenance to cheaper overseas facilities can be positive in terms of competition and will undoubtedly force airline management to look for innovative ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs. However, a level playing field must prevail as far as safety standards are concerned in order to protect the public. Double or false standards cannot be tolerated.”

ALAEA meanwhile have for some time suspected that there is cooperation between CASA and Qantas that goes way beyond an operator/regulator relationship. The real answer may well be close to the suspicions raised by ALAEA Federal Secretary Steve Purvinas. He said “I suspect that CASA are under industry pressure to give cheaper overseas maintenance facilities a clean bill of health because they are a cheaper alternative to Australian facilities.”

This is in fact the real issue here. How have we allowed government agencies, financed by tax payer’s money to fail in their primary task of protecting the public. The remit of any aviation authority or agency is safety first, the remit does not include helping airlines achieve greater profits at the expense of SAFETY.

AEI have requested copies of all audit documentation relating to the EASA approval of the companies involved. The Today Tonight expose (Flying Blind) can be viewed on the AEI website www.airengineers.org.

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