Exclusive: Leaked report reveals major overhaul for Civil Aviation Authority

Newshub has obtained a confidential review which shows the agency that regulates air safety is in the middle of a major organisational overhaul because it's still failing to perform well.

Questions are now being asked about the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) leadership, with claims the director misled the public.   

A leaked report given to staff just last month shows the CAA is proposing "significant changes to leadership structure" to improve safety.

An insider told Newshub the agency is continuing to fail in its job.

"The CAA doesn't do a good job of regulating aviation," the anonymous whistleblower says.

That may explain why an organisational review is underway. But when asked about it, CAA director Graeme Harris was unclear about what the document was.

"I wouldn't characterise it as a review," he told Newshub.

But a review, as the title states, is exactly what it is. It proposes disestablishing 21 management positions and creating 23 new positions.

"Every organisation can improve, so yes it is about continued improvement," Harris says. "It is about doing better."

According to the review, the need to do better is because:

  • "We continue to be challenged by a lack of consistency in our regulatory practice and decision making."
  • "Our current organisation design can and does drive us to work in a somewhat siloed manner."

Transport Minister Phil Twyford says if it's true the safety regulator is making inconsistent decisions and working in silos, it "would be a concern".

"No organisation is perfect," he added.

Twyford admitted while he was aware of the review "he hadn't recieved it" and therefore "hadn't read" it but said he'd still be asking for swift change.

"I certainly would, and I know the board of the CAA would feel the same way."

The CAA recently faced stinging criticism over major failures in the aftermath of a helicopter crash in 2015 that killed seven people. It knew of safety issues with the operator, but did nothing.

Around the same time the review went out to staff, Harris was asked about the current state of the CAA and what he'd say to the victims' families.

"I can offer them an absolute assurance that it is up to scratch now, that the lessons taken from this tragic crash have been learned," he told RNZ.

Aviation NZ CEO John Nicholson believes Harris has misled the public, and that raises serious issues.

"It seems a bit disingenuous to be talking to the public and be saying everything is fixed, while talking to staff and saying we've got to do things differently," he told Newshub.

"How good has the leadership been in recent years? We'd say of very questionable quality."

But Harris says he hasn't misled the public and is confident in his leadership.

"I'm engaged here in a long term programme of improving the performance of the organisation, and I think we've come a long way and we've still got some more to do...but no, we're doing well."

The whistleblower says dysfunction at CAA is due to poor performing managers. Official Information shows 49 of CAA's 284 staff have left in the past year - that's 17.25 percent.

The CAA has said it's trying to get more inspectors, but that hasn't given the whistleblower any confidence the situation is resolved.

"Most of the active units seem to be carrying about 20 percent empty spaces."

There are plenty of empty positions, although the CAA says the turnover rate is not unusually high.

Information obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act shows that some of the staff members that have left are highly experienced, so they're positions requiring years of experience.

For example, two safety investigators have left recently. So have five people from the Helicopter and Agricultural Unit, which does audits for helicopters and fixed wing agricultural operators.

Now Aviation NZ, the Helicopter Association and the Pilots Association are all saying an independent investigation is needed.

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect the Minister was aware of the review but according to his office "had not been sent it" and because of that had not read it. 

Tomorrow in Newshub's Because It Matters investigation, Michael Morrah will look at why the CAA didn't prosecute after a complaint of mid-air sexual harassment during a training flight.


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