The old guard said: You toe our line. The new CAA leaders prefer to dip toes in the water

25 July 2020 / by the GAA team / Consultation, GA in general, Governance, Legal, Medical, News, Overview, Safety, Security

In any organisation, the first few months for a new manager can be tricky. On one hand, you must establish a rapport with your team and the stakeholders. You have to create open communication and be accepted as genuine.

On the other, you’ve been appointed for a good reason. That reason may be unsettling for some; you are the new broom, here to sweep things clean. There is a temptation to make big changes right away. You can jump in the deep end of the pool and make a big splash – or you can dip a toe in the shallows and test the temperature.

GAA co-principal Des Lines has met the CAA’s two top new brooms – and found that they’re not jumping in at the deep end.

Janice Fredric and Shelley Turner: ‘A breath of fresh air’

Board Chair Janice Fredric and CAA Acting Director and Chief Executive Shelley Turner came to call (something that was inconceivable under the previous CAA management).

Their aim was to discuss the 2018 CAA Client Satisfaction Survey.  When we sent the findings to the previous Board Chairman and the Director way back then, GA’s views were dismissed as inconsequential. Nigel Gould and Graeme Harris buried the results. Then they tried to shoot the messengers, but their aim was poor and we survived.

Des asked his visitors if they had studied the survey. They had – and what’s more, they were carrying copies of it and said the results were in line with feedback from other sources. They’d come to listen, gather information, and build a working relationship.

“What a breath of fresh air”, Des said later.

Their discussion covered issues including:

  • The distrust and lack of confidence in the CAA Medical Unit and the Aviation Medical Review Convenor system. More than 90% of our survey responders want an independent Aviation Medical Panel.
  • An independent Aviation Complaints Authority or an Aviation Ombudsman. Our survey responders returned a vote of 96% in favour of complaints being heard externally and not processed within the CAA.
  • An Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) modelled on the non-punitive NTSB system in the US. Survey responders were clearly unhappy with the present ARC / CA005 system. It works on a triage basis, isn’t confidential and doesn’t provide feedback to all submitters. (86% of survey responders considered that the present system was broken.)

The GAA is not alone in questioning the lack of a confidential reporting system within the CAA. In May 2006, the Coroner reported on the June 2003 Air Adventures aircraft crash at Christchurch International Airport. The Coroner’s recommendation was That consideration be given to the feasibility and desirability of establishing an independent confidential air safety incident reporting system in New Zealand taking account of previous difficulties with the system known as Icarus, and/or an Office of Aviation Ombudsman.”

  • Consultation venues: At the last funding review, we told the CAA Director that the location and times of the planned CAA funding seminars seemed contrived to allow for the minimum attendance of GA pilots. Only six locations – Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Nelson and Queenstown – were used.

Des Lines asked that the same locations, venues and times used for the annual series of evening AvKiwi safety seminars be adopted because they were designed to reach the maximum number of GA participants. He also suggested that this would be an opportunity for the new CAA management team to meet some of their stakeholders.

  • PPL Medical Review: Submissions closed on 3 February, and it was acknowledged that there should have been better communication to GA on this issue. Shelley Turner promised an update.
  • The slowness of changes in policy: The chairperson and acting director appreciate that this is frustrating, but the CAA only has capacity to process three or four major policy changes each year.
  • Miranda Rights: In the last edition of the CAA Briefing, Acting Deputy Chief Executive for Aviation Safety Dean Winter stated: it’s important to emphasise that prosecutions are a last resort, and although high profile, they’re actually very rare. In recent years we used prosecution as an outcome for 0.07% of occurrences reported. What you will see is us using the results of prosecutions to promote safety messages more than you might have seen in the past.”

Des Lines suggested a mandatory disclosure of a person’s rights at the initiation of any investigation. This is particularly important because the HSW Act (which the CAA administers in aviation) has penalties ranging up to those for manslaughter. It could be a statement from the investigator such as:

Anything you say may be used against you in a Court of Law.

You have the right to consult a lawyer or to have a lawyer present during questioning now or in the future.

If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to a lawyer.

Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without a lawyer present?

The GAA has already noted that the new CAA Board and executive team appear to be light on aviation experience. Janice Fredric has acknowledged that closer engagement with stakeholders is a key focus of her board and leadership team. If that happens, it will assist in developing their knowledge of the sector.

Is there cause for optimism? That discussion looked like a good start, but we later learned that the only new broom with any aviation experience had quit after a few months in the job*.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer Mahanga Maru, who only joined the CAA early this year, came with high aspirations. He said: “I keep the skies of Aotearoa safe and secure. I lead the development and implementation of the CAA’s stakeholder engagement strategy and plan. I oversee and co-ordinate the CAA’s relationship with key stakeholders.” Maru qualified as a flying instructor in 1990 and was active in resurrecting the Ruatoria Aero Club and airfield.

And then, without a word of official comment, he was gone.

However, we should give the new management team some time before coming to any broad conclusions. The changes required are huge; progress can’t happen overnight.

And remember that, under the old regime, it would not have happened at all.

* Article updated on 10 August to reflect the departure of Mahanga Maru

On the subject of litigation…

…there are several high-profile Court cases involving the CAA under way, including this one:

Graham Lindsay, until recently a captain and check and training captain with Cathay Pacific, has appealed the decision of the CAA to impose conditions on his medical certificates.  These conditions were imposed in 2018, following two years of medical surveillance undertaken by the CAA, on the ground that Captain Lindsay may have been unsafe to operate aircraft due to an alleged personality disorder.  Mr Lindsay has appealed on the grounds that he posed no such risk, did not have any personality disorder or any other mental health issue that affected his ability to safely operate aircraft, and therefore the CAA did not have reasonable grounds to impose these conditions.

The issues will be thoroughly traversed in the appeal hearing  scheduled to commence on 10 August 2020 at the Wellington District Court.  This is a public hearing; anyone may watch the proceedings.