WikiLeaks and News Report fail to understand Sovereign-to-Sovereign Aviation Regulatory Communications

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ARTICLE: US fears about Australian airlines’ safety revealed

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Because it comes from Wiki Leaks and because headlines tend to be sensational, the natural conclusion is that the sky must have been falling in Australia. In reality, there are several reasons why the article’s conclusion, that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority is not competent, is totally misleading if not misinformed. Further, the notion, that the US communicated concerns about the regulatory approach of CASA is somehow inappropriate, is totally wrong.

First and foremost, despite the seemingly objective standards of the FAA’s IASA (and the ICAO USOAP), safety is usually measured in shades of gray; the black/white test is rarely found in the facts. There are, indeed, different and valid approaches. The fact ,that the US’ measure of a proper aviation regulatory regime and CASA’s current approach are not congruent ,does not logically means that Australia is unsafe. Further, to extrapolate the underlying regulatory differences to a conclusion, that the country’s airlines are unsafe, demonstrates a total ignorance of the interface between the regulator and the airlines. Many of the world’s airlines maintain safety standards well beyond what their respective CAAs require.

Second, the US and Australia are both sovereigns and allies. Communications between two nations on a wide variety of subjects are not the province of the general public. Expressing concerns about regulatory approaches clearly qualify for such sovereign-to-sovereign communication status. Note: the diplomatic cable did not say that CASA was unsafe; rather that the FAA’s inspectors disapproved of the Australian method of surveilling its airlines’ maintenance. If as the headline suggests that CASA posed an immediate safety threat, then the FAA would have revoked its relationship with the other sovereign. By communicating its concerns in private to CASA, the FAA avoided the very same panicking headline inspired by the Wiki Leaks “disclosure”.

The world of aviation safety is complex. The efforts of the FAA, ICAO and EASA to provide oversight to other safety regulators multiples that complexity (technical complexity X diplomatic nuances X sovereign-to-sovereign comity). It was unfortunate for Wiki Leaks to “disclose” this message; for it was released without the appropriate context. It is even more unfortunate that the linked article was published without such context; for it failed to do the research which would have told the readers what really was being communicated and why.

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