When I first wrote the words "The Forsyth Report", it sounded scarily like the title to a Robert Ludlum novel. I imagined a Matt Damon-like hero running through the cobbled streets of an eastern European city whilst shadowy gunmen who look like Dolph Lundgren charge after him in black Mercedes saloons; their misson to stop him making the contents of the covert Forsyth Report known to benevolent power brokers high in the US government.
There might even be a late-night dash from Washington to Europe in a Legacy 500 or Citation X+ involved.
And for a while there, between June and December, it seemed like my little fantasy was not that far-fetched, provided you took away Damon and Lundgren. Although the Forsyth Report was made public in June, it was another six months or so before the government released their response. That was plenty of time for the aviation community's optimism to erode and fertilise the growth of conspiracy theories that had many filing the Forsyth Report away under the heading "Aviation White Paper".
Some people, such as me, were expecting a complete white-wash of the whole affair presented to parliament on the last sitting day of the year in a dump-and-run style, similar to a late Friday Show Cause Notice. In fact, although it was very late in the parliamentary year, the response was far from a white-wash, it was more like stripping off the paint to expose the true structure beneath.
The government's response recognises the truth in what aviation's town criers have been shouting for years: aviation regulation needs a overhaul badly to repair the damage of neglect and a corrosive attitude towards aviation. For the first time in many years, the government and the industry are at last on the same page, and work on the restoration can now begin in earnest.
So what is it in the Forsyth Response (a Ludlum sequel?) that gives us the confidence that CAVOK days lie ahead for aviation in Australia? It's not the full 37 recommendations, or that the government has agreed outright with 20 of them; for aviation to start healing, the government needed to agree to only seven. They are (in precis):
(6) CASA board to exercise full governance control
(14) CASA to change regulatory philosophy to build a relationship with industry
(17) CASA to publish and demonstrates a "just" culture
(18) CASA to reintroduce use of discretion
(24) CASA to provide full disclosure at audit exit briefings
(25) CASA to introduce graded Non-conformance Notices based on the level of seriousness of the offence
(26) CASA to ensure audit consistency.
It is the government's agreement to these seven recommendations (No.18 in-principle) that enables us to declare the entire review panel, report and response process and complete success for aviation. None of the others will have an impact on the aviation community as much as these seven will. Without agreement to these, the other 30 were a waste of printer's ink.
For it is these seven that together exhibit the basic concepts of fairness, transparency and respect that the aviation community longs for. All the other recommendations are will be nice if we can get them, but they are peripherals. Aviation needs these central seven in order for the Forsyth Report to have any meaning whatsoever. Think about it. If these recommendations were missing from the report when it was released in June, would we have hailed it heartily as we did?
But, I am perhaps putting aviation a bit further down the recovery road that it really is. The government has at this stage only agreed; it still has to implement. There are some industry commentators who are crying for changes to the Civil Aviation Act to force these reforms to be permanently enshrined so we don't have to keep reviewing, writing, rewriting and lobbying to ask for the same reforms year after year.
Of the "peripheral" recommendations, there are another eight that stand to make substantial improvements to aviation:
(8) CASA to adopt a code of values
(15) CASA to continue to indemnify delegates
(21) CASA to move to client-oriented outcomes
(28) CASA to establish risk-management hierarchy and base oversight on risk levels
(30) CASA to change to a three-tiered system of regulation, where the third tier is in plain English
(35) CASA to delegate DAMEs to issue medical certificates where the standard is met first time
(36) Government to change regulations so Aviation Security Identification cards are needed only for Security Restricted Areas.
In these recommendations we have day-to-day changes that stand to restore faith in CASA's ability to manage their own operations, and a recognition that they exist to service a community external to Aviation House. In sum, they tell us that CASA will recognise the impact of what they do on stakeholders.
Recommendation 30 got the loudest applause from me because it means regulations would be written so that we can all understand them, not just the CASA Office of Legal Services. The sting comes in the wording of the government's response, where it adds a little caveat that says "CASA ... will continue to ensure new regulations and instruments adhere to Commonwealth legal drafting practices ...". It is these very practices that the industry has trouble with! Scratch that recommendation.
Let's face it: 35 and 36 are really no-brainers, but despite persistant lobbying we've failed to get either. The DAME medical is particularly galling because two preceeding CASA bosses, Bruce Byron and John McCormick, both promised to make this happen, and yet in neither case did it happen. How was this possible that person at the top could not force change on their own organisation? Having the DAME medical as a Forsyth recommendation does not etch it on a tablet; there is clearly resistance from within.
The odd one out is recommendation 36. ASICs have nothing to do with safety or CASA. ASICs are demanded by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and are a security issue. However, the ASRR panel clearly had so many submissions during their inquiry that it became impossible for them to ignore it. Getting this up would be a huge win for aviation, but the chances are not good; it has to overcome the inherent resistance in goverment to relaxing security measures of any nature.
It is also true to say that all of the recommendations are going to meet resistance on sme level. The first challenge, that of getting official recognition that reform is needed, has been met, but the path to change goes through a gauntlet of hardened bureaucrats determined to alter the reform recipe into something that they believe the aviation community should just shut up and swallow.
For the ASRR to realise its raison d'etre in full, it needs the government, the new broom in CASA and the aviation community as a whole need to get just as hard-headed as the bureaucrats and insist, insist, insist.
The driving force behind this insistence may be the new Aviation Industry Consultative Council that met in Canberra for the first time this week. With representatives from all sectors of aviation, including GA, the AICC may be the last tumbler in the combination that is needed to crack open a new future for the aviation industry.