July 21, 2008
AUDITS of overseas facilities used to service Australia's passenger jets are being kept secret by the nation's aviation safety regulator over fears their release could cause adverse publicity for foreign-owned maintenance companies.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority faces accusations of acting against the public interest by refusing to release 1000 pages from its audits of maintenance facilities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and New Zealand during 2006 and 2007.
The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association has sought the audits under the Freedom of Information Act. Its request was prompted by last year's leak of a scathing 2006 Qantas audit of work performed on one of its jets by the Singapore Airlines Engineering Company in Singapore.
"The general quality trend appears to be heading in a negative direction with numerous quality deficiencies considered to be of a serious nature," the Qantas audit concluded.
Last month, a Qantas 737 returned from overseas maintenance with 60 defects.
CASA has repeatedly refused to release its overseas audit reports under freedom of information, claiming doing so could harm the maintenance companies due to "adverse publicity" and also reduce the effectiveness of future audits by inhibiting "frankness and candour".
The aircraft engineers' association responded by saying the Australian public has a right to know the results of CASA's inspections of overseas facilities, and adverse publicity would only occur if substandard maintenance practices had been identified.
The association has applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to direct CASA to release the documents.
The fight over CASA's secret audits comes amid reports of a big increase in the number of Australian passenger jets being outsourced for maintenance by overseas contractors.
A recent Senate inquiry into CASA's administration was told by the engineers' association that the number of Qantas aircraft outsourced for maintenance in overseas facilities had increased from 2% in 2002 to 20% this year.
The airline and the association are locked in a bitter industrial dispute over outsourcing and pay.
An association spokesman told The Age CASA's refusal to disclose the overseas audits make it difficult for engineers to certify the safety of aircraft because they were not given all relevant information about its maintenance history and the people responsible for the work.
CASA deputy chief executive Michael Quinn told the Senate inquiry earlier this month that all overseas maintenance facilities providing services to Australian carriers were audited annually.
The report from the Senate inquiry into CASA's administration is due by the end of next month.
Engineers say it is difficult to certify safety of aircraft without the relevant information.