It does not matter where you travel in the world, aircraft owners, pilots, aviation business and professionals would all agree that aviation is a science that relies on the understanding of facts to make decisions. There can be no guesswork or assumptions in our industry, lives depend on doing the job right. Yet despite our industry’s deep understanding and adherence to this fundamental principle, it appears CASA, our national aviation safety regulator, does not understand.
Enter CASA’s dispute with light sport aircraft manufacturer BRM Aero.
In February of 2020, primed with emotion and assumptions, CASA’s strong-arm of ‘safety’ was lined up on a runway to failure, encouraged by its staff and RAAus representatives into launching a bitter and protracted public attack on the Bristell aircraft type. This followed an administrative dispute that had been burning for 18 months. On 19th February CASA issued a ‘Safety Notice’ warning owners and operators of Bristell aircraft not to carry out ‘intentional or unintentional’ stalls in their aircraft.
Just five months later in July of 2020, CASA would double down by imposing operating limitations on the aircraft type, creating significant public concern and calling into the question the safety of the aircraft design.
At the centre of this debacle is the now infamous and amateurish test flight report carried out in December 2017, authored by a pilot in Victoria, that cast considerable shade on the aircraft. The report was commissioned at the request of the Recreational Aviation Australia Limited. It then found it’s way to CASA and was used by them as the basis for requesting certification data including spin testing.
The owner of the aircraft used to conduct the test flight, was informed that the test and subsequent report had been requested by the Victorian Coroner and that RAAus were simply complying with that request. The Victorian Coroner’s office has subsequently confirmed in writing, that no such request was ever made. In fact the aircraft owner was advised by the RAAus representative present on the day that the Coroner would be arriving to oversee the tests, that never happened of course.
Exactly what the RAAus motives were to entangle itself in this mess remains a mystery. But what we can assume, is that following several accidents involving flight training aircraft, the self-administration would have been eager to distance itself from any criticism of its pilot training and licensing standards. You can only assume it would be better if the aircraft was the problem.
The consequences of CASA’s actions are both predictable and devastating for all involved, with BRM Aero suffering enormous brand and reputational damage, causing millions in lost aircraft orders and undermining both confidence and value in the aircraft fleet worldwide.
But despite CASA’s public concerns for aviation safety, away from the cameras and public stage it’s clear the regulator had little no evidence to support their position. In fact, in their letter to all Bristell aircraft owners accompanying the July revision to the original Safety Notice and the imposition of the Operating Limitations, CASA stunningly admitted:
“there is no conclusive basis to presently find that the Bristell Light Sport Aircraft does not comply with the spin recovery requirements…”
Without direct evidence that the aircraft did not comply to the ASTM standards, CASA instead attempted to justify their reasoning by presenting 112 points of discussion to owners. These points were recently responded to by BRM Aero in a 5th March 2021 submission to CASA, their aircraft customers and to industry.
A review of the BRM Aero submission makes clear that the Bristell aircraft is designed, built and tested in full compliance to the ASTM standards for Light Sport Aircraft.
Contrary to CASA’s misleading statements and public stance, the aircraft was subject to extensive spin testing, a fact that has been repeatedly confirmed by the manufacturer, communicated by the qualified test pilot involved, and subsequently re-verified by an EASA certified independent aircraft design and certification organisation.
And, if the above is not enough, the US FAA have communicated in writing that they have no concern with the aircraft type.
The facts and evidence unequivocally contradict CASA’s position and there is no question that the BRM Aero Bristell aircraft meets and exceeds the required design, manufacture and testing standards.
The problem here is not BRM Aero. If there is a risk to aviation safety, then it’s CASA in it’s current form.
What this situation loudly communicates is that CASA senior management and executives have failed to maintain a professional and impartial organisation, capable of working productively with industry and it’s partners. Instead, a toxic environment has been fostered, driven by staff and external parties who are allowing ego to drive outcomes.
The CASA and RAAus representatives involved in this mess have significant conflicts of interest that should have precluded these individuals from being involved in this matter. Yet nobody sought to intervene. There is no framework to protect industry from such concerns.
From the outset the BRM Aero message has been simple. CASA have been aggressive, have demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate, have failed to remain objective and balanced and have acted in a manner that is not proportionate.
I believe them. The evidence supports their claim.
But can anyone be surprised with the outcome? When a matter such as this is handled so unprofessionally, when the industry and its representatives are treated with such contempt, when those holding power over our industry have such blatant conflicts of interest, when the national safety regulator is able to exercise its powers so dishonestly, was any other outcome other than disaster even possible?
At this juncture a full and independent investigation needs to be conducted, seeking to understand the true motives of both the CASA and RAAus representatives involved in this mess, along with seeking to understand how easily it was that CASA’s safety enforcement powers were manipulated by persons who quite possibly were driving an agenda that had nothing to do with safety at all.
The question now is do we have a Deputy Prime Minister willing to stand up for the industry to do the right thing? Or will he and his government simply turn their backs and allow this disgraceful mess to be swept under the carpet?
Whilst we wait to see the outcome, all industry participants should take a long hard look at the CASA/RAAus partnership and ask themselves, exactly who is looking after your interests?