NZALPA Medical and Welfare Director Andy Pender recently met with CASA officials to discuss ways of working more closely together.
NZALPA’s relationship with Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) took a step forward recently, to the benefit of the 400 NZALPA members who fly Australian registered aircraft for Australian employers and are subject to CASA regulation. These are mostly pilots working for Jetstar, Jetconnect, Qantas and Virgin Australia.
While attending a Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) seminar in Sydney, my Australian Federation of Air Pilots counterpart Matt O’Keeffe and I sat down with CASA representatives, who were also attending the seminar.
We’d been introduced to Rob and Mark at CASA by Captain Laurie Shaw, a Brisbane based A330/350 Captain with Cathay Pacific. Laurie is Chairman of the HIMS Australia Advisory Group, and is also involved with Hong Kong ALPA and with the Cathay Pacific peer assistance programme.
CASA welcomed our approach and genuinely values the role we can play in liaising between them and our pilots. NZALPA occupies the middle ground between the pilots and the regulator – which has responsibility for ensuring public safety. Pilots are often scared of CASA and CAA – from our middle ground we can help to develop trust between the two sides.
We met Rob Walker (Stakeholder Engagement Group Manager) and Mark Sullivan (Head of Client Services, Stakeholder Engagement Division) and this was a really useful opportunity for all of us to put faces to names. It was also an opportunity for us to explain to CASA where Matt and I fit in the framework advocating for pilots and air traffic controllers.
When we have a good relationship with the regulator, whether that is CASA or the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), we can pick up the phone to quickly deal with issues and advocate for our members’ interests. It is especially useful when we can help smooth the road when it comes to medical issues.
If a professional pilot who is not an NZALPA member submits an application to the accredited medical conclusion process, they could wait as long as three months for that to be processed if their application requires further scrutiny. The processing time is similar on both sides of the Tasman. CASA generally has 800 applications in its inbox at any one time – only ever getting that number as low as 500 before it bounces back up again.
An accredited medical conclusion in the New Zealand sense determines whether, despite not meeting the medical standards, an applicant's condition is not likely to jeopardise aviation safety.
Processing delays are due to regulator resource issues and a very significant increase in the number of requests needing to go through the accredited medical conclusion process.
Applications can be triggered by anything from a badly damaged piece of cartilage right through to a mental health issue. If a medical examiner can’t give their tick-off in the initial consultation, then the case is referred on to the regulator for further consideration.
When we have the type of relationship NZALPA now has with CASA and CAA, we can get involved to support our members and get these applications resolved much more quickly – possibly even getting things turned around in just one day.
As pilots and air traffic controllers we can’t operate without a medical certificate so it’s likely when we are going through these processes we are grounded and can’t work. The consequences of that can vary hugely depending on the member’s role and who they work for.
We renew our medical every year (sometimes more regularly for our older members) and are obligated to report to CAA or CASA between medicals if we need to, to make use of the old general aviation medicine adage ‘the condition requires anything more than Panadol to manage’. If I stub my toe and start limping for a day I need to tell CAA or CASA. If I have periods of low mood or have concerns about my mental wellness I need to tell the regulator. If I have a head cold I need to notify the regulator. Any medical procedure; anything involving a local or general anaesthetic; anything involving ear, nose or throat. That’s what we are required to do by law.
Not everyone does that, but we always tell members that they need to have trust and to follow the legal requirements. We will be there to support them if this is required. If someone fails to advise of an issue and they are found out, the road is very scary. We much prefer NZALPA members to front foot it and report their concerns early on.
NZALPA offers our members the benefit of our relationships. We have open lines to CAA and CASA and can talk to them and draw their attention to applications that we think should be prioritised. We can explain the urgency of an application case, ask them if there is anything we can do to fast track it, or find out if they need any further information.
Our members are professional pilots and air traffic controllers, and we are doing everyone a favour by getting them back in the air, control tower or radar centre.
We were very impressed by CASA and give them full kudos for the work that they do and their willingness to engage with the industry stakeholders like NZALPA.
Particularly encouraging was the faint glimmer of hope they raised in relation to future direction on type 1 diabetes. This is currently a black and white issue that results in permanent grounding. Other northern hemisphere countries have seen movement on this issue, but so far nothing in Australia or New Zealand.
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