Professionals Australia (PA), the union that represents staff at CASA, has lashed out at the regulator saying that CASA is in crisis because staff have lost faith in the leadership and the culture within Aviation House is in need of repair.
The union made the claims last week in their submission to the senate inquiry into Australia's general aviation industry.
PA claims that CASA is understaffed, which is contributing to a loss of skills and lack of industry oversight.
"Understaffing, workload intensification, and a seemingly endless process of restructuring is stretching the technical workforce to its limits," the submission states.
"Retirements, staffing resignations, redundancies and inaction to fill vacant technical positions are putting our reputation for having one of the best safety records of any country in the world at risk. The unprecedented reduction in corporate knowledge, and resultant lack of oversight, increases the very real risk of a catastrophic accident.
"On top of it all, a top-down management culture which fails to engage and involve the workforce in change and is hostile towards critique has resulted in plummeting confidence in the organisations’ leadership. And when CASA fails, the risks are to passenger safety and one of the key underpinnings of our national economy."
The submission cites the case of CASA's Southern Region office in Melbourne, which has had six Regional Managers in seven years and the staff levels across that period have declined from 53 to 24. PA quotes one staff member from the office who has complained of "disharmony, lack in trust and respect between management and staff."
An Australian Public Service Employee Census done in 2019 shows very poor satisfaction levels from CASA staff, with only 31% saying they felt valued and 49% believing that CASA cared about their welfare.
PA believes the situation inside CASA stands to impact negatively on safety within GA because the sector presents greater challenges to the regulator than commercial aviation.
"General aviation operators lack the scale and resources of commercial aviation and therefore need greater regulatory attention and oversight," PA believes. "While commercial operators have the resources to invest in and sustain robust internal operational safety systems, general aviation operates on smaller scales with more limited resources and presents CASA with different challenges.
"Flight crews operating in the general aviation industry usually hold less experience than commercial crews and also tend to be operating much older aircraft. These aircraft require more care and attention as they age, yet the supporting Licenced Aircraft Maintenance Engineering workforce is diminishing at an increasing rate due to widespread retirements and a lack of new entrants."
CASA has declined to make any response to the PA submission, but has instead referred to a statement issued by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.
“The Australian Government take[s] all matters relating to staff welfare seriously and will consider any recommendations from the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee inquiry in due course," McCormack said.
"We are committed to supporting a strong and sustainable aviation industry. Aviation safety remains essential and ongoing even though regular passenger transport operations are currently reduced.
"That’s why our Government has ensured the Civil Aviation Safety Authority is appropriately funded over the 2020–21 financial year, enabling them to maintain necessary staffing levels and provide the level of service expected by the flying public."
McCormack also said that CASA had reassured him about the environment within Aviation House and the regulator's ability to fulfil their obligations to the aviation industry.
"CASA has said it is confident it has the necessary number of qualified staff to provide its essential services. CASA uses a centralised, cross-regional office approach to the assessment and approval of regulatory service applications, which allows for the required workforce availability.
"CASA staff feedback provided through the 2019 Australian Public Service Census indicated strengths in their workplace culture. This includes strong employee engagement (72% of respondents agreeing), strong feedback that staff are proud to work at CASA (77%) and aligned to the organisation’s values (91%), as well as high levels of engagement and confidence in their direct managers (78%).
"CASA continues to deliver the high standard of aviation safety that government, the travelling public and the broader community has come to rely on and I look forward to continuing to work closely with them to ensure Australia maintains the enviable position as a world leader in air safety.”
The full PA submission is on the senate inquiry webpage.