An Australian Senate committee has recommended that the government reinstates a board to provide enhanced oversight and strategic direction for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority after its inquiry raised concerns about the relationship between CASA and the local industry and criticised it for "the slow pace of change within the organisation". The concerns included limited progress in implementing regulatory reform, "protracted, piecemeal and chaotic" structural changes and a reactive rather than proactive approach.

The CASA board was abolished in 2003, with sole final decision-making responsibility resting with the chief executive, but the report says that reinstatement of the board would "enhance CASA's governance and accountability".

The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, which was tasked with looking into the administration of CASA earlier this year following concerns over CASA's performance as safety regulator, also recommends that the aviation regulator completes the long-running aviation regulatory reform programme (RRP) as quickly as possible, and that the National Audit Office audits CASA's safety management systems (SMS) approach.

CASA embarked on an extensive organisational and RRP in 2003, but many of the 61 submissions to the inquiry criticised the changes for lacking planning and direction, and being poorly implemented. Structural changes within the organisation have resulted in "significant delays in processes and projects" and have had a detrimental effect on the pace of regulatory reform, according to the report, while a significant turnover in staff - almost 50% since 2005 - has led to concerns about the technical competency of staff.

The change in its regulatory approach to a SMS one has also caused concern, with submissions criticising CASA's enforcement strategies, policy of self-regulation for some sectors of the industry and its audit programme. The report says: "The committee remains concerned that CASA appears to be falling short of achieving an appropriate balance between systems audit and specific operational surveillance," adding that CASA's recent response to maintenance issues at Qantas "causes the committee some concern".

CASA's limited progress in implementing the RRP is of particular concern, says the report. Some A$144 million ($114 million) has been spent on the programme, with only 32 of the 60 regulatory parts being reviewed having been implemented, and most of that work completed before 2005. The report recommends that full implementation be achieved by 2011.

Source: Flight International