If you do nothing else today – read this.

20 Mar

I have literally just lifted the entire post below from the unspeakable Prune. It is far too eloquent a pearl to waste and deserves every bit of public acclamation it gets; for indeed it is a masters concise construct and as sound of reason as any reading here could ever hope to find, without paying a small fortune for it. Bravo Sir, well done indeed. The Tim Tams are on the top shelf, next to where the quality posts are kept.

Gingerbread – (legend).

In response to Senator Xenophon’s disallowance of the Part 145 MOS Minister Truss has released one of the most vitriolic and simply wrong Press Releases I have ever seen – containing one incorrect (and unsubstantiated) assertion after another. What a contrast to Senator Xenophon who made a considered disallowance speech that fully justified each of his criticisms of CASA’s amendments to Part 145 MOS.

Minister Truss characterised the disallowance as simply industrially motivated (as did Senator Cash in her reply speech in parliament) rather than the clear safety issue it was. They have clearly been very poorly advised (or are relying on their staff or CASA who are probably trying to save themselves once the incompetence of the delegated legislation or management of the negotiation with the LAMEs started to become evident…).

Both the union representing LAMEs (ALAEA) and the union representing Special Maintenance workers (AMWU) opposed the amendments to Part 145 MOS on safety grounds, so it was hardly an industrial issue. It didn’t benefit or particularly disadvantage ether group; it simply removed a vital level of safety oversight and directly contradicted the existing Guidance Material for the MOS.

In her rebuttal speech Minister Cash said LAMEs and their union oppose Special Maintenance (SM). This is simply untrue, LAMEs or their union have never opposed the skilled and critical support functions of SM that they often rely on. In his speech Senator Xenophon clearly highlighted the skilled role played by SM personnel. And as for the Minister Cash’s claim of the union simply wanting a monopoly on certification, well she is [kind of] right – but for completely the wrong reasons.

Engineers do support a licencing monopoly – on safety certification as the professional privilege restricted to holders of a State issued licence across all safety critical domains such as medicine, engineering, aviation or many others. A licence holder is a “delegate of the State” and the licencing regime a key methodology with which government controls risk by establishing appropriate professional standards, experience, accountability and performance.

Neither the Minister in his ill-informed PR rant or Senator Cash in her shallow Senate speech rebutted a single technical point made by Senator Xenophon. Both simply asserted that the amended regulations met ICAO and EASA standards (without explaining how they did – in contrast to Senator Xenophon who explained clearly how they did not).

I’m surprised they though they could get away with this – compliance with ICAO SARPs is a simply verifiable fact and Annex 1 gives very clear guidance on who has the “privilege” of certifying airworthiness (maintenance being classified as anything that affects airworthiness). It beggars belief that the Minister (and CASA) can claim the amendments met ICAO Standards when it can so easily be verified independently that they do not. Annex 1 Ch 4 is only a few paragraphs – a 10 minute review shows clearly that SM personnel who are not licenced by the State (or meet equivalent training/knowledge/experience requirements) are not eligible for the privileges the amended MOS (CASA) gave them – and which have now been removed.

Only a licence holder who has met the training requirements and experience levels specified in Annex 1 (or a person trained to the same standards) may be granted the “privilege” of certifying airworthiness or signing a maintenance release. A Special Maintenance person – despite their acknowledged skill and necessary function – simply DOES NOT meet this requirement. How can they, there are not even any ICAO compliant training standards for Special Maintenance in the Australian regulations! If they did [somehow] meet the ICAO standards these personnel would be able to demand a licence from CASA! And if CASA couldn’t give them one [which of course they couldn’t] it proves they aren’t ICAO compliant! Similarly, if as CASA (and now the Minister) maintain, SM personnel can certify for airworthiness then they can also defer maintenance. Where in the amended regulations was there anything about this massively unintended consequence? What a minefield… But the problems didn’t stop there:

Bret Walker SC, one of the most senior legal counsel in the country, believes that SM personnel do not have the authority to certify the airworthiness of a special maintenance task and also that a LAME could not rely on such a certification as proper basis to issue a subsequent CRS. He also said that if a normal LAME task was reclassified as Special maintenance” then a specific SM approval would required to conduct that task. This meant that of a LAME who did not have that specific approval (as the vast majority do not) would not be authorised to conduct the [newly reclassified] SM task – even if it was something he had been doing safely and legally for years. The company would have to arrange for this authorisation and rewrite its MOE to facilitate that – a huge cost and administrative burden on business.

So might Australia’s LAMEs have been acting illegally when doing their normal work between 3 October last year (when the amendments came into force) and Wednesday afternoon when they were thrown out of the parliament by a large majority (it was not just the ALP that disallowed them Minister!)? Bret Walker SC thinks they might well have been? If LAMEs had a radical industrial agenda they could have shut down Australian aviation six months ago Minister! Perhaps they should have; at least that would have flushed the whole mess out into the open and CASA would have had to explain themselves…

Special Maintenance personnel clearly conduct skilled and necessary tasks – but they must be “special.” To be “special” they must be tasks LAMEs generally cannot do and are outside the normal licencing training regime. For example, such new technology processes that arise from time to time (until normal training absorbs them), specialised skilled tasks such as NDT or welding – tasks that are a trade in themselves. These are vital and necessary support activities.

But certifying airworthiness, as Annex 1 and the existing CASA Guidance material explicitly recognise, requires a wider knowledge and understanding of the complex interactions BETWEEN aircraft systems rather than specialised knowledge of a particular stand-alone system or process. This is why we have licenced personnel; to develop and demonstrate wider competence.

There were a multitude of these ancillary problems with the CASA amendments to the 145 MOS. However, the main problems were that by reclassifying normal LAME tasks as “special” they transferred the certification authority of licence holders (for these tasks) to unlicenced (even if skilled) persons. This is a direct breach of ICAO Annex 1. In doing this the amendments redefined the traditional Quality Assurance (or QA declaration) of a Specialist Maintainer as an ICAO level airworthiness certification. They do not have this authority as QA declaration does not meet the ICAO Standard for airworthiness certification.

Rather, SM personnel provide a QA declaration that a licence holder is entitled to rely on when issuing the subsequent airworthiness certification. The QA declaration confirms the SM task has been conducted to an approved quality standard and that the maintainer is qualified, authorised and approved by the Part 145 organisation to conduct the SM support task. The task must, however, be conducted under the wider airworthiness oversight of a licence holder, responsible not for its quality, but for its airworthiness and interaction with other systems that the SM’s knowledge/experience/authority does not cover.

This creates a certification chain wherein the SM maintainer provides a QA declaration for the support task, which is passed up the chain to the the LAME certifying the airworthiness of the wider task of which it was a component. Lastly, that individual maintenance task airworthiness certification by the LAME is passed further up the chain to the licence holder issuing the CRS.

This preserves the professional responsibility chain as the individual maintenance task LAME takes personal responsibility for that task task based upon his/her knowledge and the QA declared input of a SM (where this has been required). The CRS LAME does not take responsibility for the individual maintenance task as is the case in the EU. In Australia the CRS LAME may sign the CRS remotely from the aircraft and have had nothing to do with the maintenance tasks performed. His role is more like a professionally knowledgeable auditor, ensuring all the individual maintenance task airworthiness signatures are complete as per the work requested.

What happened in the MOS amendments was the middle signature individual maintenance task LAME was potentially removed when the SM QA declaration was passed directly up to the CRS as the maintenance airworthiness certification. This DOES NOT meet ICAO standards and Bret Walker SC’s advice was that the CRS cannot be issued on the basis of this inappropriate certification. CASA and the Minister are still trying to say that it can.

Luckily Senator Xenophon called them out on this and the rules permitting it have been thrown in the rubbish bin where they belong. And LAMEs standing up for Australia’s aviation safety standards are now being accused of running an industrial campaign and the ALP of shooting down safety! NO Minister, you have been misinformed.

EASA similarly does not allow non licenced persons to certify airworthiness – EU OPS 216/2008 and the associated Implementing Regulations permits only persons meeting Part 66 [licencing] standards to certify maintenance – except in exceptional circumstances.

I could go on further with numerous other problems with these very poorly considered amendments that have thankfully been disallowed by Senator Xenophon who took the time to understand the issues. Suffice to say the regulations were fundamentally flawed and any single issue alone was a basis for their disallowance.

These flaws would have arisen over time and would have caused chaos; Senator Xenophon has not only saved vital safety outcomes he has also saved CASA from themselves…

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