A year after moving into the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s (CASA) top job in an acting capacity, director of aviation safety Shane Carmody is pushing hard to break the authority’s legendary regulatory logjam.
While that’s been an aspiration of every incoming CASA boss for the past two decades, Carmody has an advantage over some of his predecessors: he’s been there before.
He was Deputy Chief Executive Strategy and Support at CASA between 2006 and 2009 before moving on to become Deputy President of the repatriation commission, the Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
That was in addition to a slew of other senior roles he undertook after joining the public service from the army in 1989.
The respected bureaucrat moved into CEO job on a permanent basis on June 7 and says he is driving hard to finish the regulatory reform program.
“I can’t in all conscience allow things to continue to drag,’’ he says “And I’ve got a lot of things that I’m going to close out in the next six to 12 months. I have them very clearly on my agenda and I’m going to push them forward.”
Outstanding matters include the thorny issues of radio frequencies in low level airspace, pilot medical certification standards and rules covering pilot fatigue.
CASA also has a discussion paper out on drones and is seeking comments on proposed changes to regulations covering aerodromes.
“If we actually deliver on those things, I think people will start to look at us differently,’’ Carmody says. “Not entirely differently but it will give the organisation a bit of clean air to start thinking about better ways to do business rather than fighting the past all the time.’’
The CASA boss has already streamlined the consultation process by setting up a new Aviation Safety Advisory Panel designed to provide high-level advice on current, emerging and potential issues.
Members include the Australian Airports Association (AAA) the two big airline groups, the Australian Aviation Associations Forum, the Regional Aviation Association of Australia and Recreational Aviation Australia.
He believes the previous consultation process was taking too long while giving people too many opportunities to change their stance.
He says the new system is about improving the quality of consultation while compressing it.
The panel will focus on big picture issues while working groups will look at specific issues related to individual sectors. CASA is setting up a register of aviation experts to help sub-committees work through issues.
Carmody says he has been appreciative of the support he’s received from the industry as well as the willingness of people to engage. He believes strongly in engaging with people and “saying what you’re going to do and then doing it”.
“I think I’ll get more support from the industry than I’ve had already if I continue to do that,’’ he says.
“But it won’t be perfect. Some won’t agree with the outcome but that’s the life of a regulator.”
In the case of airports, Carmody recognises the difficulty of drawing together a group that ranges from large, profitable facilities to smaller airports that are struggling.
He says the AAA has been working closely with CASA on 11 proposals to make changes to Part 139 of Civil Aviation Regulations and the associated manual of standards.
Comments are due by December 8 on changes that aim to streamline aerodrome safety requirements while making them more flexible and relieving the regulatory burden on smaller facilities.
A key change will see the replacement of the existing “registered” and “certain other” aerodrome classifications with a “scalable” system that matches the regulatory requirements with the complexity of the operations.
Operators of terminals with no terminal instrument flight procedures will not need to be certified unless they elect to be.
CASA argues the system will be clearer and simpler, bringing a range of benefits such as reduced emergency preparedness costs.
Other proposed changes include standards based on outcomes, new requirements for technical inspections and the introduction of an accountable manager at airport operators (see https://www.casa.gov.au/standard-page/casr-part-139-aerodromes).
Carmody says it’s important to require a safety management system at big airports much in the way it’s required for airlines.
“It’s a proactive, really important approach to running safely,’’ he says. “But as you step down to the smaller aerodromes you don’t need all the bells and whistles. You don’t need as big a safety management system. You don’t need as much complexity.”
He does not believe simplifying the system for smaller operators is detrimental to safety but says it will benefit overheads and management.
He’s also heard that those involved in the Part 139 process believe it’s going in the right direction “and it’s a good initiative”.
“I think working closely with people over the last two and a half years on this PIR (post-implementation review) – so it’s been a while – has been about building a scalable system, something that can actually work and people are not driven into, “he says.
Another big issue facing airports from CASA’s viewpoint is the growing problem of drones, or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) as they’re officially known.
The authority has been conducting a campaign to educate RPAS owners about their responsibilities.
It has also launched a discussion paper looking at issues such as the registration and regulation of drones; training and education of operators; counter-drone technology; and geo-fencing.
Carmody sees the complex issue as significant for airports and one that will continue to take up more of his time and that of his staff.
“There are a couple of things about it,’’ he says “One of them for me is the current regulatory framework sufficient and safe? And the second thing is what’s regulatory framework of the future.
“There are some challenges in the drone space because by its very nature, safety, security and privacy are all conflated.
“Basically, I own one of the three. I own the safety dynamic. I’m not accountable for the privacy dynamic.’’
The CASA Chief says some drone operators will never be part of the aviation industry and need to be kept away from aerodromes and flight paths as well as others who will eventually co-exist with the rest of the aviation industry.
An important part of this is encouraging people to adopt the right behaviour, which CASA has been addressing with its education programs, an easy-use drone safety app and an agreement to have RPAS rules distributed at a drone’s point of sale.
He also wants to start looking at the future of drones so CASA is not on the back foot when people start bringing new technologies into the country.
“I ‘d like to resolve a lot of the current debate because this industry’s running really fast and make sure the regulations set for commercial users and recreational users are fit for purpose,’’ he says.
“Personally, I think it’s close but I don’t think it’s perfect and the senate inquiry that’s underway will probably give me some guidance in that space.”
Other airport issues engaging CASA include the regulatory impact of growth on airports, the introduction of new parallel runway systems in Brisbane and Melbourne as well as the construction of Western Sydney Airport.
The latter, he says, “is going to have a huge effect on the Sydney basin and it’s going to have a huge effect on Sydney’’.
Asked which issues keep him awake at night, he nominates drones, the low capacity regular public transport/charter sector and oversight of overseas low-cost carriers.
“Where we tend to have accidents, at least in recent times, are in what you’d call the charter space and that worries me,’’ he says.
“How much regulation do we put into that space to allow them to operate safely but to not constrain them and create overheads so the business can’t function?”
International LCCS are a potential worry because the primary oversight rests with the national aviation authority of their country of origin.
Carmody says he is keen to assure himself that CASA’s oversight mechanisms are up to the challenge.
This means CASA assuring itself the operations are safe, the aircraft have been maintained effectively, the pilot check and training regimes are safe and the risk processes are robust.
He acknowledges this is an aim more difficult to achieve with overseas carriers because of the need to visit foreign countries to examine operations.
“And when we do have concerns we actually go there and we spend some time working through their safety systems making sure they have systems we consider are sufficiently robust,” he says.
Overseas carriers need to get a foreign operators certificate to operate in Australia and that gives CASA the right to check aircraft operating here.
But the CASA boss says this doesn’t give the authority a complete insight and there is still a dependence on the regulatory body in the carrier’s home country. How CASA identifies, manages and ameliorates the risks stemming from that dependence remains something that concerns him.
“I think we’ve got a quality aviation system but I don’t think every nation in the world has the same quality aviation system, put it that way,’’ he says.
Looking at Australia’s regulatory oversight overall, Carmody argues it’s a question of being balanced and proportionate.
In a recent announcement, for example, he emphasised the use of a “just culture” approach to safety regulation with limits on the use of information showing a contravention of safety rules.
Individuals and organisations found to have violated a provision of the safety rules will be given an opportunity to address and correct safety issues without CASA taking enforcement action.
It will only crack down where there is “a deliberate, wilful or reckless breach” of the aviation safety rules, a pattern of repeated misconduct or people fail to address identified safety issues.
“You build systems and you improve systems, you make things work as well as you can and if you learn from something you make things work a bit better,’’ Carmody says.
“And frankly a lot of things work pretty well.”
He notes that most Australians fly around the country without it ever entering their minds that they will not get to the other end.
“It’s a safe system. A lot of people work very hard to make that system safe in Australia and it’s up to us to continue to manage it and operate it … I take that accountability and responsibility very seriously,” he says.
By Steve Creedy
About Steve Creedy
An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.
Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.