Speech to the Aviation Industry Association

  • Maurice Williamson

Dunedin Conference Centre.

It gives me great pleasure to be speaking to you here today, and to be opening your conference.

I would like to begin today by talking about cockpit voice recorders, or CVRs

Some of you will be aware these are the subject of legislation currently before the Transport and Environment Select Committee.

I introduced this legislation only after lengthy consultations with pilots and other industry groups, including some of you here, the police and the public. And since it has been before the select committee there has been further opportunity for you to have your views heard on this important issue.

I say important because this legislation goes to the core of aviation safety. I am hopeful that by clarifying the use of information from aviation accident records the legislation will give the aviation community renewed confidence. All those involved in aviation - including pilots, passengers and the industry generally - will benefit if we can ensure that the information gathered in accident investigations is used for the purpose for which it is collected - that is, safety.

The Bill will send some strong messages regarding the value we place on ensuring that the Transport Accident Investigation Commission gets the best possible information for its investigations. In particular the Bill will highlight the crucial role CVRs have to play in such accident investigations.

The Government has established a firm policy on the use of CVRs in these investigations. We have informed the Transport and Environment Secect Committee that we believe all CVR information should be immune from criminal prosecutions. We would expect the committee to take the Government's position into consideration when making its deliberations.

Once passed the legislation will bring New Zealand's domestic law into line with provisions in the International Convention on Civil Aviation, the so-called Chicago Convention. The philosophy that underpins the Convention will be made plain in law, namely that such information is to be used to establish the causes and contributing factors of air accidents, and not to attribute blame.

Having set the ground rules for use of this information, the Bill will allow civil aviation rules that make it mandatory to install and use CVRs in larger commercial passenger aircraft to come into force. That will be a great step in making our skies safer for travellers.

Before I move on I would also note that the Bill has raised a range of important issues, not just about CVRs, that are at the heart of aviation safety. Some of these issues will be addressed in the Bill. Others raise questions that need to be debated further. For instance, how do we best promote a safety culture? What is the proper role of legal proceedings in promoting that culture? What is the role of the Civil Aviation Authority and police in accident investigations ? And how can we reconcile those roles with a free flow of information to those agencies?

Another issue is the role of the Authority vis a vis the Transport Accident Investigation Commission and others in the investigation of accidents. There is a need to rationalise these respective roles to make better use of resources.

The Ministry is about to start a review which will canvass all these issues and the industry will get the chance to comment when the Ministry releases a discussion document on these questions.

While I am talking about the CAA may I say that I was very heartened by the Ministerial inquiry into that organisation . You will be aware that the inquiry was prompted by a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report into the Beechcraft Baron ZK-KVL crash in the Tararuas in June 1995.

The inquiry reinforced my belief that the fundamental aviation safety regulatory framework and CAA's systems are comprehensive, well conceived and basically sound.

But as with any systems, there is always room for improvement and I am taking a close interest in ensuring the recommendations for improvements are actioned. I am also now looking at how the lessons from the Upton enquiry can be applied to the other safety agencies - the Maritime Safety Authority and the Land Transport Safety Authority. I believe that there are lessons to be learnt by all three safety agencies and I have directed Ministry of Transport officials to raise these issues with each of the agencies.

But it is not only the safety authorities that can learn lessons for reducing accident rates. With the release last week of the Coroner's report on the Furveaux Strait crash it appears that there is another instance of deficient internal procedures within an operation. It is apparent that there is still much that can be done to lift performance, particularly at the light aircraft end of the commercial aviation industry - both fixed wing and helicopter.

Inevitably some commentators have used this opportunity to call for more intense intervention by the CAA in such operations. What is the Government doing about it is still inevitably the catch-cry despite the concept of a shared responsibility for safety evisaged under the Civil Aviation Act.

I think there is still much the industry itself, including your association, can do to promote and encourage sound management practices in such operations. There is a challenge for you there if you choose to take it. There are some first rate operators out there and some who shouldn't be in business at all. Your association can do a lot to get the best practices understood and accepted across the whole industry.

Moving now to the topic of rules Parliament's Regulation Review Committee has been looking at the whole way deemed regulations, including rules, are formed. As part of that work they have looked at the aviation rule process. While the committee has found the system is generally sound, there are some issues to be addressed. As a result, while there won't be any major upheavals to the rule making process, there will be some changes made to better manage that process. These will be worked through with all three safety authorities. No doubt you will hear more about these changes in due course.

Turning now to the issue of civil aviation certificates I know your Association is concerned at the lack of international recognition of New Zealand certificates. In April your President suggested to the Government the possible use of APEC to advance the mutual recognition of certification in the region.

The Government certainly recognises the importance to the New Zealand aviation industry of aircraft certification and continued airworthiness services to foreign customers. During previous negotiations with the European Union, the Government endeavoured to include this sector in the Mutual Recognition Agreement on conformity assessment between New Zealand and the EU.

At the time, the EU was not in a position to address aviation issues. However at our insistence, the final agreement did include a Joint Declaration, which confirms the intention to continue negotiations and to complete within two years the Sectoral Annex in respect of aircraft certification, and continued airworthiness. The agreement came into force on 1 January this year and we therefore have a deadline of 31 December 2000 to incorporate aircraft certification and airworthiness in the sectoral annex.

Our people have made the necessary approaches and the EU has responded positively. As a result, the negotiation process is expected to commence in November this year.

The Ministries of Commerce and Transport, and the Civil Aviation Authority, have commenced work on developing a framework for the negotiations. It would be appropriate for your Association to be consulted in that context, and your officers can expect that to happen in the next month.

Turning now to the APEC dimension. APEC has included transport issues in its work programme since 1991. The second APEC Transportation Ministers' meeting in 1997 saw Ministers endorse the aim of mutual recognition of professional qualifications. Ministers directed the APEC Transportation Working Group to give consideration to mutual recognition measures that would:
 promote transparency in regulations,
 resolve differences in conformity assessment, and
 facilitate the mobility of transport personnel

At its meeting in April this year, the Transportation Working Group endorsed an Australian project proposal, co-sponsored by Indonesia and New Zealand, to identify measures that promote the mutual recognition of qualifications and skills of transport professions among APEC member economies. Air Traffic Controller and aircraft engineering qualifications were cited as examples of prospects for mutual recognition. The APEC Budget & Management Committee formally approved the project this month. While only the first step, it is an important one towards improving the mobility of transport professionals in the region. The Ministry of Transport will keep your Association informed about this project.

The Transportation Working Group has already produced a model mutual recognition agreement for the certification of automotive product, intended for use bilaterally in the region. Australia and Thailand recently became the first APEC economies to enter into such an agreement.

A similar model could be developed for aircraft certification and continuing airworthiness. This is an initiative that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority are prepared to promote, especially if the potential benefits to the regional aviation industry could be quantified. It would be particularly helpful to the Ministry if the Association could assess the likely economic benefit of such mutual recognition to the New Zealand industry. The Ministry would also wish to point to the support of New Zealand's aviation industry for this initiative to be introduced into the Transportation Working Group's work programme. Again, you can expect to hear from the Ministry on this initiative soon.

Moving on to another issue that I have a strong interest in, Y2K Here I'm wearing several hats, that of Minister of Transport but also that of Minister of Information Technology, and the Prime Minister has also made me Minister Responsible for Y2K.

The Ministry of Transport has commissioned an independent review of public safety issues relating to Y2K. The first part of that review was a report on the aviation sector issued in April.

Briefly, the report aimed to identify what aviation industry operations could fail, the impact on the public, and to assess Crown entity measures to manage risks. In doing that the report then identified the residual risks.

I am very pleased it concluded that the public risk from Y2K issues within the civil aviation system is considered to be very low, and probably virtually zero. I congratulate the industry for having taken an early lead in handling and managing the residual risk associated with Y2K. As the report says, the Y2K Aviation Industry Group has been singularly successful in organising an integrated approach to solving problems and developing industry wide solutions.

However there is clearly no room for complacency. The report also notes that whereas IFR air transport operations will be backed up with a comprehensive and validated set of contingency plans, this will not be the case for many VFR and general aviation operations unless they are specifically included in the international and domestic contingency plans for the continued operation of air transport services.

It also indicates that there are perhaps many general aviation operators who are still not aware of what the potential problems might be. For example some may not be aware that there will be two roll over periods, one based on New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT) and the other on Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC).

I know since the report was produced the CAA has done a lot to rectify the communication issues it raised. I am sorry I will not be able to attend the Y2K forum being held later today as I am sure this will prove an excellent opportunity for some of the remaining Y2K issues to be discussed. However while I won't be here this afternoon, be assured that through the Ministry of Transport I will be continuing to take a keen interest in Y2K matters as they impact on the aviation sector.

Lastly I would like to remind you of another significant date coming up later this year. On November 28 it will be 20 years since Flight 901 flew into the side of a mountain many people had never heard of before - Erebus. From that day on that name has been synonymous with our worse nightmares.

It's a disaster that shook New Zealand. I think I am probably right in saying that none of us will ever forget where we were when we heard the news: a DC10 missing with 257 people aboard. I saw it on a Bill Board while walking down the strip in Las Vegas.

Like many of you I have a strong interest in what happened on that flight. Of all aviation disasters Erebus is one that remains controversial, even after all this time. But I don't raise the issue today to point the blame. The time for that is passed. Instead I hope to mark the 20th anniversary this year by tabling in Parliament the Royal Commission enquiry report by the late Justice Mahon.

In doing that I hope to rectify what I consider to be a major anomaly. The Mahon report was never officially tabled in Parliament. As a result, the report of the Office of Air Accident Investigations remains the sole official account. I believe that it is time that we formally acknowledged the debt we owe Justice Mahon and one way of doing that is to give his report official status at last. It stands as a major contribution to our aviation history, and deserves recognition as an official report on the disaster.

Some of you may be asking why bother? After all this time does it really matter? My answer to that is emphatically YES. As to why I can offer no better explanation than this: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

And we have learnt some of the lessons. Let's make no mistake about that. Our whole approach to safety has changed, with a greater emphasis now placed on the responsibility of management in the safety process. As well we've made structural changes to the aviation sector, with the establishment of a stand alone safety authority and an independent authority to conduct accident investigations.

The Mahon Report broke new ground, not just here in New Zealand, but internationally. What it showed us was that an accident sequence is like someone slipping down a knotted rope. The pilot's decision may be the last knot in the rope but there are many other events which set up the accident sequence. In such circumstances it is extremely difficult, if not futile, to isolate a single cause.

A systems approach such as that taken by Mahon is now widely accepted as the valid approach to accident investigation, while "pilot error" is increasingly seen as too simplistic. Its an approach that applies to other high technology systems too: the more complex the system, the more it depends on a significant number of people doing the right things at the right time.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) cites the report as pioneering in its recognition of systemic accident investigation. It says the Mahon Report was ten years ahead of its time, and I believe that's true. ICAO goes even further and says that subsequent high technology systems catastrophes such as those at Chenobyl and Bophal need not have happened if the international safety community had grasped the messages from Erebus and adopted its prevention lessons.

Justice Mahon's report richly deserves due recognition. If I can do something to help give it that recogntion I will be proud of my time in Parliament.

And on that note I would like to thank you for your time and wish your association well as it flies into the new millennium.