As Australia and New Zealand attempt to move nearer 'open skies', both countries are being stifled by bureaucracy which is largely irrelevant to general aviation

Paul Phelan/CAIRNS


Australian and New Zealand (NZ) regulators must commit themselves to restoring and enhancing their relationships with industry as the neighbouring countries are faced with aligning their regulatory systems more closely by December 2003.

The two governments will implement a sweeping 'open skies' liberalisation, announced by their respective transport ministers last November. This pact will include the cross-border validation of licences and certificates which, for example, would allow either country's aircraft, pilots and maintenance/over-haul services to operate domestically in the other country.

Against that background, the continuing divergence between the two separate and (until now) insular aviation regulatory systems poses an unwanted hindrance to their governments' regional harmonisation goals.

Operationally and commercially, their general aviation (GA) industries are similar. With low population densities similar to those of Canada and Alaska, Australia, with around 10,000 GA aircraft, and NZ with 3,500, share a critical dependence on GA for key activities like aerial agriculture, air taxi, emergency services, government functions, fast freight, personal/ corporate flying, resource support, rural essential-service feeder airlines and a comprehensive range of tourism services.

Training menu

Both countries also compete vigorously with an extensive menu of services in the high-value domestic and foreign pilot training market; in which their benign weather, sophisticated English-speaking air traffic control environments and time-zone situations are a shared advantage. Small but significant GA aircraft manufacturers in both countries make harmonisation essential both across the Tasman Sea and with the major foreign certification authorities.

NZ is about three years ahead of Australia in the complex task which both sets of regulators set themselves in the early 1990s - that of alignment with the US FAA's rule structure and philosophies, committed to promoting GA development and interests. This is in preference to those of Europe, where, at least to Australasians, GA exists in a withering GA-hostile regulatory and economic environment.

Although the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (NZCAA) has only partly overcome the rancour and suspicion that greeted its early moves toward rule reform, vigorous public debate and consultation have now at least thrashed out a regulatory framework that is capable of becoming workable and progressive. Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has more ground to cover, and the two agencies are still drifting apart in their regulatory development programmes.

The potential harmonisation problems ahead are highlighted by CASA's response to an NZCAA offer when its rule restructure was well-advanced while Australia was setting out on the same course. The New Zealanders offered Australia the benefit of their project development on the basis of "$1 million for the floppy disk". The Australians responded as they might to a New Zealander's offer of advice on how to play rugby or cricket.

"It would have been the smartest million they'd ever spent," asserts a NZ participant in that offer. "They're now making the same blues [mistakes] we were making three years ago. Eventually they'll have to go back and start again, but they haven't even hit bottom yet."

GA operators in both countries have similar complaints. They believe they are being stifled by bureaucratic processes largely irrelevant to GA; and both assert that arbitrary rulemaking by entrenched and authoritarian bureaucracies continue to hinder the development of effective safety partnerships.

High court action

In the latest skirmish, almost the entire NZ aviation industry has launched a high court action against changes to pilot medical examinations, which Dennis Thompson, a NZ aircraft trader for 30 years, says have cost some private pilots up to $7,000 for an annual health check: "The courts have already declared it illegal, but [the NZCAA] takes positions and it won't budge. It deliberately intimidates pilots, telling them that objecting to a particular regulatory action may cause 'regulatory problems.' The former partnership approach to safety is being sabotaged, and the effect of that sort of thing is that people will walk away from GA."

Australian industry leaders equally insist that stability and industry/regulator harmony must replace the 20 years of almost continuous political intervention, senior management and directional change, and endless politically-driven government inquiries which they blame for the safety-negative confrontations between them. The challenge is to reverse that instability and the low morale among regulatory staff that has sapped the regulator's experience base, its ability to define and pursue its primary goals, and its capacity to deliver the voluminous regulatory services it mandates.

Regional alignment

NZ has recognised the higher relevance of a regional alignment because the bulk of its aviation business is with the USA, where almost all its aircraft fleet originated, and the USA is potentially its prime export market. The NZCAA has recently concluded a bilateral pact with the FAA in which the certifications of both agencies will be mutually recognised for overhaul and maintenance, flight operations, manufacturing, and certification. CASA says it will begin work with the FAA early this year to develop a similar agreement.

Meanwhile, CASA had forged ahead with its own rule rewrite, initially with the identical goal of aligning with the FARs in a compatible format, and in relatively close consultation with industry. But industry leaders at all levels are protesting loudly that subsequent changes of government, board and management, and growing friction between regulator and regulated, have all but demolished that consultation process. They also complain that although the rewrite had been well-advanced, more recent policy changes have injected a hefty and regionally irrelevant dose of European regulation into the proposed new rules.

While some of those proposals have not yet reached notice of proposed rule making status, Australia's industry is already preparing for new confrontation as their implications emerge, says Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) president Bill Hamilton: "The industry fully supported the government policy of harmonising with the USA and with our near neighbours, but that isn't what the present CASA management is doing. It's JAA [European Joint Airworthiness Authorities] straight down the line, and in GA this is a disaster, because Europe simply doesn't have a GA industry as we know it; although it has developed a mass of regulation in case it ever gets one. What's happening now, amounts to: 'We're going to start by effectively banning GA, and any relaxation from that depends on how hard you people negotiate.' That's no way to run a regulatory body."

On pilot licensing, Hamilton says the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, are well advanced in producing their own national private pilots licences, simply because nobody can afford the JAA licence: "You'd be lucky to get the JAA private pilot licence in 100 flying hours; it's more restrictive than the Australian commercial pilot licence, and the medical requirements are worse than those for an ATPL for a pilot over age 60 here. And there's no justification or risk management applied to any of it."

In another example, Hamilton adds that planned rule changes for commercial helicopter operators appear to be based around specifications developed for North Sea resource support: "They just don't understand that the way we use helicopters here is not the way they're used in the European environment, and that applies to the whole of general aviation."

Deep distrust

Helicopter Association of Australia (HAA) president Dan Tylor confirms the industry's deep distrust of the move to embrace substantial portions of the JARs, and plans to challenge it on safety grounds: "Our Civil Aviation Act mandates that CASA's primary concern must be safety, as does their corporate plan. It can be shown that the JAA nations have a markedly worse accident record in helicopters than the USA; and we ask: 'Why are you following JAR/OPS-3 when you have a mandate to promote safety, although the competing regulatory regime which is under consideration for harmonisation, clearly has a better outcome?'"

Tylor says CASA promised at consultative meetings that the regulator, having considered the safety outcomes of competing jurisdictions, had decided to follow the FAA's helicopter regulations: "Despite that assurance in an aviation forum last May, CASA has now produced a second discussion paper which is almost a reprint of JAR/OPS-3. We're assured that with JARs nothing really changes, but those who've read the new proposed rules in detail say they would have horrendous repercussions for our industry."

What both GA industries now demand is a wholly fresh approach in which regulation is developed and administered in close, harmonious and receptive consultation with industry. They're unlikely to allow the politicians any electoral peace until they get it.

Source: Flight International