Queensland Nationals senator Susan McDonald has slammed CASA for refusing to adopt a recommendation from the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) to wind back new maintenance regulations imposed on Angel Flight operations.
Senator McDonald chaired an inquiry into the conduct of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's (ATSB) investigation report on an Angel Flight crash at Mount Gambier in 2017, which CASA used as a basis for introducing new restrictions on aircraft and pilots used Angel Flight.
The inquiry made two recommendations, one of which was to remove additional maintenance requirements for the aircraft.
Senator McDonald told the senate last week that CASA had rejected the recommendation.
"I have long believed that regulation of any industry should be outcomes based, it should be effective and it should be reasonable," McDonald said. "There should be transparency of the clear connection between the problem to be solved and the legislative solution.
"CASA has not accepted the unanimous recommendations of RRAT to reject the additional maintenance requirements, which once again adds cost to an increasingly unfinancial sector. The requirement for the additional maintenance was not able to be demonstrated by CASA, either in its written submission or in appearing before the committee.
"Indeed the idea that this was only a small increase to costs fundamentally demonstrates the extraordinary disconnection between this regulating body and the reality of life and services available in regional and remote Australia, the very places that rely on Angel Flight.
"In taking this course of action, CASA doesn't display a desire to act on collaboration and consultation and shows refusal to accept commonsense reform. This lack of understanding of the gradual and relentless increasing cost and regulation on the aviation industry with no demonstrable link to safety improvement other than using a precautionary principle concerns me enormously."
Senator McDonald went on to say that she believed CASA's position would negatively impact Angel Flight to the point that people in rural and regional Australia would be disadvantaged.
"As a resident of this huge outback country, there could be much [sic] services if only aviation was affordable for general aviation and charter businesses," she said.
"CASA's proposed regulatory changes would not have prevented the June 2017 accident, and with no reference to additional maintenance requirements in the ATSB report, it is hard to understand [to] what end CASA has made the change, not to mention the fact that CASA's approach risks driving pilots out of the Angel Flight service, which is so critical to Australians living in rural and remote areas.
"It is painfully apparent that CASA imposes regulation simply for the sake of it.
"I'm here to tell you that I cannot and will not support a report that clearly examines the evidence, examines the challenges for regional and remote Australia and the challenges for the aviation industry and stands by while CASA once again imposes maintenance requirements that are unreasonable, that are costly, and once again seek to strangle opportunity and aviation in this country.
"Regulations need to be strict, but not so strict as to strangle, and I believe Angel Flight will be strangled by these proposals."
Senator McDonald crossed the floor last week to vote with the independent parties in favour of Senator Rex Patrick's motion to disallow the CASA restrictions. She was the only member of the Coalition to do so and the only National to vote. The motion failed to get up because of collaboration between the Coalition and the ALP.
"This is not voting against government," she explained, "this is voting against an instrument that was created by an independent statutory authority that is slowly crippling our aviation industry."
Fellow Coalition senator Slade Brockman from WA agreed with McDonald on the issue of maintenance, but did not participate in the vote against the disallowance motion.
"I didn't disagree with all the regulations ... the one I found difficult to accept ... was the requirement for additional level of aeroplane maintenance," Brockman told the Senate. "If I'm the owner of a particular aircraft and that aircraft is safe enough for me to take my friends up in; safe enough for me to take my children up in, has met the requirements of being considered a safe aircraft for the purpose of general aviation in Australia, then I see no reason to add on to that a further maintenance requirement that risks more people leaving general aviation.
"Additional maintenance requirements are not something just to be shrugged off. Pilots take them seriously; they have to be taken seriously.
"I did agree with large parts of the regulation. As such I did not support Senator Patrick's disallowance. It's a very blunt instrument, a disallowance. Unfortunately it means you knock out everything, you literally [sic] throw the baby out with the bath water.
"I will continue to monitor this area very closely and look to see if the regulations as promulgated do have a negative impact on that sector."