The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has said that it did consider the financial impact on general aviation when it ordered all of Australia's GA8s out of the air last week.
CASA took the action after a fatal crash in Sweden where investigators made a "general observation" that the aircraft may have broken up in mid air. The initial ban on flying was for 15 days, but was lifted after only five.
"Prior to reaching the decision to temporarily suspend GA8 Operations, CASA considered the safety risk as well as the potential economic impact on operators," a CASA spokesperson said.
"As the limited information at hand made an unattributed structural failure a very real possibility and combined with the assessment that if this was the case the potential risk exposure would occur on every flight regardless of type of operation, CASA considered it a prudent and precautionary step in the interests of the safety of Australians to temporarily suspend the GA8.
"CASA did not take this decision lightly."
Coming in one of the busiest tourist months in the northern states, the impact on operators has been described as "substantial." The grounding is estimated to have cost operators of Australia's 67 Airvans around $1.3 million.
Operators were forced to cross-hire other aircraft to cope with pre-existing bookings and source more pilots because two aircraft were required to do the work of one full Airvan.
One operator told Australian Flying that if it wasn't for a good relationship they had with another charter company enabling them to use C210s, they would have had to close the doors, costing even more money.
Another indicated the company wouldn't be paying a lot of tax in July, hinting that the grounding would cut margins severely.
The grounding co-incided with a bipartisan bill going through parliament that changes the wording of the Civil Aviation Act 1988 to ensure CASA takes into account economic impact, but leaves safety as the absolute priority. However, the requirement to consider cost is already in the minister's Statement of Expectations (SoE) to CASA.
A question to the Department of Infrastructure Transport Regional Development and Cities asking if the department would require CASA to show how the GA8 grounding complied with the SoE drew this response.
"The intent of the wording in the SOE, and the related changes proposed for the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (the Act) is clearly not intended to prevent CASA making essential safety decisions; as outlined in section 9A of the Act CASA must regard the safety of air navigation as the most important consideration," a spokesperson said.
"With regard to the recent GA8 grounding, from the time of the accident CASA was in close contact with aviation authorities in Sweden. Based on the best information available at the time, CASA took the decision to ground the fleet due to safety concerns. We commend CASA for working diligently with Swedish and EASA authorities to remove the restrictions swiftly once the critical safety concerns were allayed.
"The CASA Board reports quarterly to the Minister on progress in implementing each of the requirements in the SoE."