• Jabiru Aircraft Business Manager Sue Woods. (Steve Hitchen)
    Jabiru Aircraft Business Manager Sue Woods. (Steve Hitchen)

Jabiru Aircraft Business Manager Sue Woods has nominated the culture of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) as a roadblock to aviation manufacture in Australia.

Woods made the comments to a hearing of the Senate Inquiry into General Aviation held in Brisbane last week.

Jabiru once held CASA production certificates for aircraft, but allowed them to lapse in favour of making light sport aircraft (LSA), which enables manufacturers to self-certify the aircraft to ASTM standards, removing CASA from most of the process.

When asked by commiittee chair Senator Susan McDonald what changes would need to happen to kick-start GA manufacture in Australia, Woods did not hesitate to highlight the way CASA operated.

"There has to be a very big shift in the culture of CASA," she said by phone link. "I do think that there are fairly limited avenues to change that culture when it's in the act that the highest priority is safety. Although the regulations are set in black and white there, with some common sense the interpretation of those rules can be such that there's more leniency or leeway, depending on the purpose of the aircraft.

"The those rules don't have to be interpreted as if the aircraft's going to be an airliner carrying hundreds and hundreds of people. So, if the purpose of the aircraft is taken into consideration when the regulations are being audited, there's possibly some scope for manufacturing to go ahead. But there appears to be no desire to change the culture within CASA.

"Today, everyone in society seems to be getting more risk averse, and the aviation industry is no different. All organisations are trying to offload organisational risk, and CASA is like that as well."

In a statement prepared for the inquiry, Woods outlined the difficulties in dealing with the regulator on matters of manufacture.

"It is not viable for a manufacturer to operate under the CASA production regulations," she explained. "All companies that have tried in recent times have failed financially, no matter how good their product. The documentation, compliance and auditing are so draining of resources with little to add to safety.

"The only way for us to survive has been to give up our CASA production certificates and exclusively produce to the ASTM airworthiness standards for light sport aircraft and to self-certify our products. That way, CASA is relieved of the liability of certification of our products.

"This is in keeping with CASA's mission to dump their organisational risk, so is accepted by CASA. Because it is not possible for all the sectors of aviation to deliver airline-levels of safety, CASA has taken measures to shed its exposure to the risk of these other sectors."

Jabiru found itself at odds with CASA in late 2014 when the regulator applied operating restrictions to aircraft powered by Jabiru engines. The Bundaberg-based manufacturer had a constant battle with CASA to try to get the restrictions lifted, but succeeded only in having them amended to exempt aircraft that are compliant with Jabiru's instructions.

Woods said the CASA action nearly forced the company to fold and she felt it was based on CASA's fear of litigation.

"CASA took very public action, without consultation, in the form of a CASA limitation that forced our customers and flying schools, among other things, to sign an acknowledgement that there was a risk of death by flying behind our engines," she said.

"In so doing, CASA could avoid any risk of litigation concerning past approvals given by CASA. This action was driven by Jonathan Aleck, head of the CASA legal department at the time. This action destroyed many flying schools using our aircraft and almost destroyed us, personally, and our business.

"We were engaged with CASA constantly for two years, until they gained an understanding of our sector of aviation, at our expense."

The senate inquiry is ongoing and schedule to table its final report in November this year.

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