US authorities prepared to downgrade Australia's air safety rating: cable

Release date: 31/08/2011

The US Federal Aviation Administration was worried enough about the availability of trained air safety inspectors and excessive delegation by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of regulatory functions to airlines that it considered downgrading Australia's safety rating in late 2009, according to a WikiLeaks cable. 

Steve Creedy, The Australian

The cable from the US Embassy about an FAA audit said that while Australian safety officials seemed committed to overcoming shortcomings before a second visit in April 2010, the possibility of a category downgrade existed and was being taken seriously.

 "While the team recognized improvements on previous shortcomings and commended many areas, there remain a few shortcomings, principally a shortage of properly-trained inspectors and excessive delegation of regulatory functions to carriers," it said.

The FAA routinely audits countries whose carriers fly to the United States to ensure they meet appropriate safety criteria. A Category 2 rating means the FAA does not believe a country's safety oversight meets the minimum standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The cable said the downgrade to Category 2, the same level as some third world countries, would be worst-case scenario which would entail measures such as freezing of flight operations between the US and Australia at then current levels and terminating code-sharing arrangements.

This would have a had an impact on the Qantas-American Airlines alliance and could have affected V Australia's later attempts top form an alliance with Delta Air Lines.

"CASA officials are not taking this possibility lightly and seem committed to resolve the shortcomings in order to avoid a downgrade," the cable said.

"FAA team members were extremely satisfied with CASA officials' openness and eagerness to make constructive improvements based on the assessment.

"FAA and CASA clearly have a good working relationship and we will monitor progress toward maintaining Category 1 status."

The cable said the FAA would also watch to make sure CASA's efforts enjoyed "adequate support at the ministerial level".

CASA managed to convince the Americans that it was addressing the problems and announced in April last year that Australia had maintained the Category 1 rating.

CASA's director of aviation safety, John McCormick, said at the time the result of the audit was "a positive endorsement" for Australian aviation safety.

"Australia can continue to be very proud of our aviation safety record and the effort we make to maintain that record," Mr McCormick said.

"The audit recognised there had been a past under investment in technical training for CASA staff and supported CASA's current initiatives to provide even more comprehensive technical training," he said.

"A lot of work has been done over the last 12 months investing in technical training and this will continue."

Click here to read the story on The Australian website

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