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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau tonight announced that, with great regret and after serious consideration, it is withdrawing Mr Bob Armstrong from the investigation into the Whyalla Airlines accident.

The ATSB values deeply its reputation for the highest standards of investigation. Mr Armstrong embodies these standards.

The ATSB's regret is that the appearance of a conflict of interest may have been created by unjust claims made in relation to his previous service -- perhaps 100 hours of flight time -- with Whyalla Airlines over the period 1995-97.

Mr Armstrong was open and up-front with Bureau management and with other parties to the investigation, including the South Australian police, about this period of limited service. Nothing more could have been asked of him.

Bureau management took the matter seriously, and considered how best to ensure that no reasonable query could be made against the investigation team. We settled upon the addition of a more senior investigator to oversight the inquiry. Of substantial significance in this decision was the impossible restriction that would apply to investigations if, for example, this principle extended to ex-Airservices Australia employees, requiring us to bar any ex-Airservices employee from investigating air traffic control incidents. As there is only one employer of civilian air traffic services officers in Australia, a perpetual scope for conflict exists.

However, given that the appearance of a conflict has been raised in this case, and given that the Bureau necessarily accords absolute primacy to the integrity and independence of its investigation, the ATSB has withdrawn Mr Armstrong.

The Bureau will in future make public to all media at the outset of its investigations whether an investigator has any apparent conflict. It will not, however, withdraw officers if the conflict is -- as it was in this case -- judged to be marginal at best.

Media contact: Peter Saint B: (02) 6274 6590, M: (0408) 497 016
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Last update 01 April 2011