Dick Smith clears the air: safety red tape is crippling regional airlines

SMALLER commuter planes are safer than travelling via road, but will never be as safe as larger aircraft and it’s a reality bureaucrats should face by lifting restrictive safety measures crippling the aviation industry, according to Dick Smith.

Mr Smith said currently the government and the aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) do not understand the best way of having high safety levels in aviation was to have a profitable industry.

“You can always increase safety by spending more money, but then you end up with less people who can afford an air ticket,” he said.

“It’s a balance, but in aviation people don’t admit it’s a balance.

“They lie and, from the minister down, they’ll tell you that safety is in front of everything else.”

Mr Smith said he was pushing to have the act changed to show higher participation in aviation was necessary to retain a high safety level.

“Unless it does we’ll have less and less people flying and you won’t have any regional aviation at all,” he said.

Although Regional Express’s (Rex) profits have recently slumped, Mr Smith said there was no reason why country towns could not have a safe and viable air service with a profitable company.

“I think we can have higher levels of safety but with less waste, less money wasted on the regulative system,” he said.

“We’ll kill more Australians because they all be driving to Sydney they won’t be going by air and that’s criminal.”

As CASA chair in the 1990s he pushed for safety to be made affordable with a concentration on reducing costs.

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He said it was tougher for regional aviators because there were less passengers, but the same safety expectations.

“If you’ve got 300 people in a 747 they can afford a higher level of safety than 15 people in a Saab,” he said.

“But what’s been happening is the do-gooders in the bureaucracy have been trying to make a Saab as safe as a 747 and you can only do that by increasing the air ticket by 10 times to get the same income as 300 people.”

Mr Smith said it was likely Brindabella Airlines could not afford to comply with the safety rules when the carrier’s fleet was grounded by CASA forcing the company into receivership.

“Flying in a small commuter plane is probably 30 times safer than going by road and flying in big airline aircraft would be 40 times safer,” he said.

“If you want to make the small commuter plane 40 times safer you’ll have no one flying.”

Mr Smith suggests the government should model its aviation safety requirements on the United States and does not believe spending less on safety puts people at risk.

“You can have very high levels of safety without the enormous costs and that’s what you have to be smart at doing,” he said.

Mr Smith cited the requirement to have his helicopter’s altimeter checked every two years instead of every five years like in the United States.

“Of course it makes it safer, if you checked it every three months it would be even safer, but with the cost of flying I’ll be the only one who can afford to have a helicopter,” he said.

“It’s a matter of that balance between cost and benefit.”

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