On 30 September 2016, a huge change occurred in how the ADF handled airworthiness. The organisation began a transition from a system that was unique to Australia to one that aligns with a Europe-based convention, used by around 30 other nations.
The extent and speed of our adoption attracted international attention, which was further explored during the International Military Airworthiness Regulation Conference (IMARC), held in Melbourne in November 2016.
IMARC was attended by over 25 militaries, including the US, UK, Germany, Turkey, China, NATO and Indonesia, as well as a number of industry partners, and provided a forum for international partners to better understand the considerable benefits of a global approach and was hosted by the Defence Aviation Safety Authority (DASA), which came into being at the same time as the transition, reflecting internationally recognised organisational structures.
The new airworthiness system is called the Defence Aviation Safety Regulation (DASR) and, at a time when Australia is involved with joint operations with coalition partners, it offers far more scope for interoperability and increased supply and sustainment options, is legally more defensible, assists with international ‘traceability’ of qualifications and reduces costs significantly.
So, what led to the changes and how did we get to this point?
A series of accidents in the late 1980s and early 1990s prompted the creation of an airworthiness regulatory set that played a part in delivering a high level of safety – the Technical Airworthiness Regulations or TAREGs. At the time it was arguably world leading, but a weakness was the fact that it was specific to Australia. Australia is increasingly involved with a growing number of operations with coalition partners, and with globalised procurement and sustainment, the system had become expensive and unwieldy to operate.
As more issues emerged, ‘band-aids’ were applied and it started to become clear that a bespoke system that was unique to Australia was becoming harder to defend, and was fraught from a legal perspective. Australia’s commitment to joint coalition operations made inter-operability vital, and yet the ADF’s airworthiness language differed markedly from partner nations, creating translation issues and impacting sustainment and maintenance options. Sending a rescue team half way around the world to change a part that could be easily supplied and fitted by a partner nation in-situ was not only costly but increasingly a strain upon limited resources.
With more maintenance and engineering being outsourced to industry, and the use of civilian-based platforms, this problem was worsening, creating mounting expense and significant logistical issues. In fact, it was calculated that the bespoke system was 30 per cent more expensive to operate than the civilian equivalents. The ADF’s system used terminology and constructs that were unfamiliar to other nations and industry partners, such as the distinction between ‘operational’ and ‘technical’ airworthiness, which is not recognised anywhere else.
From a global perspective an aircraft is either fit-to-fly or not, and what the operator does thereafter in terms of how they might choose to operate that aircraft is a matter of policy but not airworthiness.
As problems and deficiencies emerged, it became clear that the band-aid approach of taking contemporary ideas and trying to affix them to the existing regulations could not continue indefinitely.
It was also becoming apparent that it would be legally very hard to defend a system that operated in isolation from global best practice. By the second decade of the century, it was clear that Australia would need to undergo major change once again if it was to retain a safe approach to military aviation.
In 2011, the organisation charged with technical airworthiness, the Directorate General Technical Airworthiness–ADF, which was then under the command of Air Commodore Terry Saunder, acknowledged the need for a new regulatory system and began exploring options.
Given the ADF’s use of American aircraft types, consideration was given to aligning with the US, however each American service has its own unique regulatory system. Discussions with the International Civil Aviation Organisation led to an investigation of the merits of aligning with an emerging Europe-based convention being used by around 30 other nations.
The European Defence Agency had taken the European civilian airworthiness regulations and applied them to the military, resulting in the European Military Airworthiness Requirements, or EMAR’s, that are around 95 per cent identical to their civilian counterparts.
The benefits of aligning with the EMARs were many and varied. Industry partners already had experience of them in many instances. They allowed for greater interoperability with coalition partners, which was an important consideration with the ADF’s operational tempo, and also increased supply and sustainment options.
Additionally, they allowed for international traceability of qualifications, blended workforce options, reduced the need to translate regulations and provided a benchmark for world-best-practice in military aviation safety.
As a result, work began on what would become the Defence Aviation Safety Regulation, which aligns with the European system as closely as possible, but allows for ADF operational requirements built in, only where absolutely necessary. It was recommended to the Chief of Air Force in 2013. A period of diligence and mapping of requirements followed, resulting in a first draft published at the end of January 2016.
This allowed feedback and comment from stakeholders as well as assisting with planning for implementation by Defence and industry partners. A review of all Defence aviation platforms was completed in July 2016, and the first phase of implementation began on 30 September 2016. A two-phase approach was developed to ensure safety levels were maintained during the transition.
The first phase saw Defence organisations and selected industry partners adopting the DASR, while the second phase was different for each aircraft type and allowed organisations to explore the benefits at a rate they were comfortable with. Full implementation for Defence and industry partners was projected to be achieved by 30 December 2018.
DASA also came into being at the same time as the DASR was released in order to reflect internationally recognised organisational structures. The inaugural Director General of DASA, Air Commodore James Hood, explained that EMARs "are set up so that there is a high level of basic regulation and a suite of ‘flat’ implementing regulations".
"A country can either use those regulations or make sure that their military regulations address the issues. We made a conscious decision to pick up the ‘golden regulations’ – the intent is identical to ours so our implementation has been very closely aligned to the EMARs. In a sense the ADF’s alignment with the European based system has been world leading in terms of the extent to which they have been adopted," he said.
Military airworthiness regulations do have some differences to civilian counterparts, and need to have inbuilt flexibilities to allow for operational requirements.
"The DASR has an inbuilt flexibility provision,” AIRCDRE Hood explained. “This allows a commander to operate with the flexibility required in operational contexts."
Thus the ADF embarked on a new journey to maintain world-leading standards of military aviation. It was a “seminal moment” according to Chief of Air Force Air Marshal ‘Leo’ Davies, and represents the single biggest change in Defence aviation safety in around 20 years.
The ADF strives for constant improvement, and as more complex aviation systems are adopted, striving for world-best-practice is essential to help ensure safety. The principles behind regulation management and oversight have also developed significantly since the TAREGs were introduced.
It is now accepted that better practice should focus on outcome-based regulations (with built-in flexibilities) to treat threats to safety and not the means to achieving (prescribing) that outcome. With the implementation of the DASR, Defence is aligned with international-best-practice for both military and civilian airworthiness regulation.
Barrie Bardoe is a widely published aviation and Defence journalist. He is currently Public Affairs Officer with the Defence Aviation Safety Authority and has over a decade of experience as a military officer.
He is conducting PhD research into the effects of a subtle and emerging cultural influence on diverse areas of communication and social organisation. His research has implications for societal paradigms through to the prosecution of ‘warfare’. He has also released electronic music on a wide range of international labels and has just completed a new album. His writing reflects a personal standpoint.