The senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) Legislation Committee last Friday put CASA's new community service regulations under the microscope in a supplementary session of senate estimates.
Senator Rex Patrick and Acting Chairman Slade Brockman sought clarification from CASA CEO Shane Carmody over the new regulations, focusing on the difference between a normal private flight and one organised by a community service organisation such as Angel Flight.
In answering some of the questions, Carmody said that statistically a community service flight (CSF) was "four to five times" more likely to have an accident or incident than a normal private flight, and offered to provide grounded evidence at the next RRAT session marked for 2 April.
Carmody also stated that the new limitations of 400 hours total time, 250 hours in command and no Night VFR were aimed at raising the standards and pointed out that the CASA restrictions were still not as rigid as those applied by some Angel Flight organisations in the USA,
However, Carmody also agreed with Senator Patrick that the new regulations would have only minor impacts of the operations of Angel Flight in Australia.
Senator Patrick took particular issue with the ban on Night VFR operations, querying what made a CSF any different from a normal private flight
"I'm just trying to understand why, where you have someone who is qualified to fly night VFR, I can go to that person and say, in a private way, 'There're two of us in the plane; how about we split the cost of this journey?', Senator Patrick asked.
"I can pitch in for the fuel, pitch in for some of the maintenance costs and pitch in for whatever other costs might be involved in the flight. But my colleague who is ill—with the same pilot, the same aircraft and, in this instance, where someone is assisting with the cost of the fuel—can't do that. I just wonder how you differentiate between—I'm probably less valuable than that person!—two people in exactly the same circumstances from a safety perspective?"
"In that last accident case, I think the drift into night VFR was a consequence of late appointments and what have you," Carmody replied. "Sometimes this happens in the community service flight sector, where someone is flying into the city for an appointment. The appointment gets delayed, something happens and then they're under pressure to get back.
"In this case I think it was a drift into night VFR, but they ran out of time. The pilot would be saying: 'I'm still qualified, so I'll fly in night VFR. I've been flying all day but I'll keep on flying.' We're looking for human factors, decision making, to say, 'Maybe I shouldn't fly night VFR.'"
Senator Patrick also tabled the Angel Flight documentation that showed people accepting CSFs were required to sign a waiver, read a fact sheet and watch a video, which the senator believed negated the duty-of-care factor and showed that passengers were going to into the flight with "eyes wide open", which led to the following exchange.
Mr Carmody: What the document doesn't say is that, in Angel Flight's case, for example, according to our statistics, there's a significantly higher risk of accident or incident flying with Angel Flight than flying privately.
Senator Patrick: I'm going to ask you to table evidence that grounds that statement.
Mr Carmody: We have done our calculations, which have led us to our conclusion. I'm not sure that, even though we've done our work, everyone will agree with it. I'm quite happy to table it or quite happy to do it on notice.
Senator Patrick: That's fine.
Senator Patrick later put CASA on notice that he was expecting to see the statistics CASA was relying on to make their case and how the new regulations would make CSFs as safe as normal private operations.
"Can I just tell you the strategy that my party has done in terms of lodging a disallowance. We have lodged a disallowance in the House. It's really just to send a signal so that people can be prepared and present their case. I will do the same in the Senate when it returns on 2 April.
"I don't want to disallow something, but you've got to make your case. You are the safety authority. You are introducing a regulation that you say is centred on safety. I can't quite see it as it stands. You have now basically said it comes down to the statistics. You are concerned that Angel Flight have more incidents than private pilots [private operations].
"I want to see those statistics and see how these regulations would have altered those statistics to get them back to the place we are with normal pilots' licences."