ATSB bids farewell to one of our own

It is our melancholy duty to advise that Dr Rob Lee AO, a great leader and aviation safety visionary passed away peacefully on Friday morning 27 April 2018.

Dr Rob Lee AOIn 1970, Dr Lee graduated from the Australian National University with First Class Honours in Psychology, winning the Australian Psychological Society Prize. In 1974, he completed his PhD in Psychology at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. His research was concerned with human performance in complex systems, with particular reference to aircraft.

In 1976, Dr Lee was appointed Senior Psychologist, Operational Command, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He became the first RAAF psychologist to serve as a human factors specialist on RAAF aircraft accident investigation teams.

In 1983, Dr Lee joined the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI) as the Bureau’s first human factors specialist. He established and developed the Bureau’s capability in human factors, systems safety and research. Dr Lee became Director of BASI in 1989.

During his directorship, he transformed the Bureau from a purely reactive investigative agency to an innovative multi-skilled organisation that concentrated equally on proactive accident prevention and safety enhancement. As Director of BASI, he negotiated the memoranda of understanding to increase practical cooperation in air safety investigation in the Asia Pacific region with Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan.

In 1999, Dr Lee was appointed Director of Human Factors, Systems Safety and Communications of the new multi-modal Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

In 2000, he expanded his influence internationally in human factors and systems safety in aviation and in other high technology industries. He was a human factors analyst on the investigations into the Gulf Air A320 accident at Bahrain in August 2000, the Singapore Airlines B747 accident at Taipei in October 2000, and the mid-air collision between a B757 and a TU154M over Ueberlingen, Germany, in 2002.

He was a member of the Expert Panel on Safety Management Systems appointed by the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Waterfall, NSW, rail accident in January 2003.

He was a member of the Advisory Board of the NSW Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator, and has been a member of the Nuclear Safety Committee of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency for fifteen years.

Dr Lee was a Group Captain in the RAAF Specialist Reserve, in the capacity of a consultant, and regular training course lecturer, on aviation psychology, human factors, systems safety and air safety investigation within the Australian Defence Force. He was an adviser to the Board of Inquiry into the Royal Australian Navy Sea King accident that occurred in Indonesia in April 2005, and was an expert witness on the Board of Inquiry into the fatal Army Black Hawk accident that occurred on HMAS Kanimbla, off Fiji, in November 2006.

He was a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators, the European Association for Aviation Psychology (EAAP), and the Australasian Society of Aerospace Medicine. He was also Vice-President of the Australian Aviation Psychology Association. He lectured at the Singapore Aviation Academy on integrated safety management systems, and on human factors, systems safety and risk management.

Dr Lee was co-author with Professor James Reason, Captain Dan Maurino of ICAO and Captain Neil Johnston of Aer Lingus of the book ‘Beyond Aviation Human Factors’, published in 1995. He was an associate editor of the international journal ‘Human Factors and Aerospace Safety’, published by Ashgate, UK.

In 2000, Dr Lee was awarded the Aviation Human Factors Achievement Award by the Australian Aviation Psychology Association.

Dr Lee was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. In 1989 he won the Henry Wigram Award of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

In 2003, Dr Lee was awarded an International Prize by the Captain A. G. Vette Flight Safety Research Trust of New Zealand. The award read: “Your work in the RAAF and as Director with the Australian Bureau of Air Safety Investigation has set an excellent example”.

In 2010, Dr Lee was awarded the Australian Bi-Centennial Award by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN), “in recognition of an outstanding individual contribution to Australian Aviation”.

From April 2011 to March 2012 he served as Technical and Air Safety Director of the GAPAN.

In the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Dr Lee was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO): “For distinguished service to the aviation industry, to the development of air safety and accident investigation standards, and to national and international professional associations”.

In September 2014, he was awarded the 2014 Award of the European Association for Aviation Psychology for “outstanding achievements in Aviation Psychology”.

In December 2017, the ATSB’s primary conference room was named the Rob Lee Room in recognition of his outstanding contribution to improving transport safety in Australia.

Whilst he will long be remembered for such a significant contribution to aviation safety, he will also be remembered for his warmth, his love for his partner Sue and his family, his infectious smile, his international diplomacy, and for his musicianship, as lead guitarist in the Canberra band “Mid-Life Crisis”.

May he rest in peace.

Last update 02 May 2018