Paul Phelan/CAIRNS

Intended reform of Australia's civil aviation regulatory infrastructure is being held up by an escalating confrontation between the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI). Allegations of corruption in both organisations are being aired publicly.

The stand-off threatens the success of a programme aimed at reducing the size of the country's aviation bureaucracy and, as planned in the USA, introducing user charges in several formerly Government-funded areas.

In a widely circulated letter, CASA chairman Dick Smith has publicly confronted BASI director Dr Rob Lee over a BASI recommendation that the trial of new "Class G" airspace management practices be stopped on safety grounds. Smith has accused BASI investigators of complicity with vested interests in the industry and CASA, and has demanded an independent review of BASI and its processes.

BASI has countered by renewing its demands for access to the minutes of CASA board meetings as part of an ongoing investigation of CASA's management of the airspace trials, which Smith has backed.

Old tensions have resurfaced between CASA's senior management and a union representing regulatory staff, over a series of reforms the authority is introducing in air safety rule-making and enforcement, flight operations and airworthiness, and the partial deregulation of sport aviation.

Smith has accused regulatory staff of having a relationship with industry which is too close to be healthy, and released a damning internal report on a recent airworthiness incident. This says that CASA staff deliberately overlooked verifiable evidence of serious breaches, protected deliberate rule-breakers, and wrongly informed the Government that the matter had been placed in the hands of federal prosecutors. CASA has now handed evidence obtained in that investigation to the police, who will determine whether criminal charges should be laid against present and former CASA officers.

CASA chief executive Mick Toller, who was hired by Smith but whose resignation, according to industry sources, has been "on the table" for some weeks, has insisted the relationship between the organisations has remained cordial and workable; but the fracas has prompted transport minister John Anderson to demand an end to the infighting, and sparked industry concerns that the government may abandon planned reforms and restore regulatory functions to government department status.

Source: Flight International