Alan Stray is director international of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. He was awarded the Public Service Medal for his work supporting development of the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee

What first sparked your interest in aviation?

At a young age I had a deep desire to be a missionary pilot, having often heard about the work of missionary aviation in many countries through my church.

How did you begin your professional aviation career?

In January 1965 I began a five-year aircraft maintenance engineering apprenticeship working on a range of general aviation aircraft from the smallest fabric-covered type to turboprops and the Bristol freighter. In February 1968 I began flying lessons.

Working week - Alan Stray
Stray (right) is closely involved with developing Indonesia's NTSC

Aircraft maintenance engineering and a commercial pilot licence were prerequisites for mission aviation and I spent the 1970s engineering and flying in Papua New Guinea. I returned to Australia in 1980 and flew as a regional airline captain for seven years before joining the then Bureau of Air Safety Investigation in January 1987.

What personal qualities does an investigator need?

In addition to technical skills and a practical background in the aviation industry, an accident investigator requires certain personal attributes. These include integrity and impartiality in the recording of facts, logic and perseverance in pursuing inquiries, often under difficult or trying conditions, an analytical and enquiring mind, and tact in dealing with a wide range of people who have been involved in the traumatic experience of an aircraft accident or serious incident.

What are the best and worst aspects of the job?

Working with those best placed to achieve safety improvements such as regulators, airlines, maintenance organisations, and manufacturers, is important and satisfying. The trauma of an accident site where there has been major airframe disruption and the resultant loss of life can be extremely difficult.

Helping accident victims' families understand the circumstances of an accident and keeping them informed of the progress and subsequent findings of the investigation can be a challenging and unpredictable experience. Some families, although needing answers, are completely accepting of the investigation processes while others, through their grief, are needing answers that the investigator may not be able to provide. This can create tensions.

What has the Indonesia project achieved?

The Indonesian project has achieved a steady rate of capacity building in aviation, marine and rail safety. In May 2007, in co-operation with the Indonesian government, the Australian government, through its Indonesia Transport Safety Assistance Package, committed to three years of transport safety capacity building.

My part of the overall project covers safety investigation with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau directly assisting the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee. To date our projects have developed ICAO-compliant investigation policies and procedures for the NTSC and assisted in the investigation and report writing to ICAO standards of some significant investigations.

A number of training courses for NTSC investigators have been conducted in Indonesia and three investigators are now completing the ATSB's 12-month Diploma of Transport Safety Investigation course in Canberra (a fourth investigator has already completed the programme), and an engineer is undergoing flight recorder replay and analysis training.


Source: Flight International