23 Aug 2019

CAA still 'conflicted and confused' about its role, says industry

10:37 am on 23 August 2019

The aviation industry says there is ongoing confusion about the Civil Aviation Authority's safety role.

No caption

Nigel Gould. Photo: wikicommons

And they're pointing to the resignation letter sent by outgoing chairperson Nigel Gould as proof.

In outgoing board chair Nigel Gould's goodbye letter to staff, he wrote, "as a regulator we have steadily shifted our approach from enforcement to assistance and support - often in an environment where some resistance has been met".

The problem is, it contradicts what the Civil Aviation Authority's director Graeme Harris told Morning Report in May, following a scathing Transport Accident Investigation Report which criticised the Authority for its lax inspection regime.

Mr Harris said the CAA had been "conflicted and confused" in the past, but it was not any more.

"Is our role when we go out and look at these operators ... to try and help them to try and keep them in the system or is our role - which we clearly know now - to be a strong regulator acting in the public interest," Mr Harris said in May.

Neither CAA, Mr Harris, or Mr Gould were available for an interview or responded to RNZ's questions.

Aviation New Zealand's chief executive John Nicholson said the difference between the two men was emblematic of the agency's problems.

"I just wonder if it reflects some of the ongoing confusion and uncertainty within CAA as to what it is there for," Mr Nicholson said.

As a result of that confusion, the industry did not always know where it stood, he said.

"We should have everyone talking the same way 'this is what CAA does'," Mr Nicholson said. "I don't think we have that clarity."

Aviation commentator Irene King said she understood "the dysfunction within the organisation has just gone exponentially off the scale".

Those problems were widespread, affecting safety audits, and slowing companies down from using new aircraft types, she said.

"When they get confused, the systems and processes start to break down. Everyone's expectations of each other changes and so you get some very challenging scenarios for operators who had been expecting one thing but in fact get something quite different," she said.

That meant industry no longer knew what the CAA wanted them to do, and she said that had led to some planes being grounded.

Ms King and Mr Nicholson both said the CAA could provide assistance and support, as well as enforcement - but only if it could get out of its current muddle.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs