Aviation safety issues and actions

Classification of parachuting operations

Issue number: AO-2014-053-SI-05
Who it affects: Australian parachuting industry
Issue owner: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Transport function: Aviation: General aviation
Background: Investigation Report AO-2014-053
Issue release date: 23 June 2017
Current issue status: Closed – Partially addressed
Issue status justification:

Following the accident, general improvements have been made by the APF with regards to the implementation of a requirement for operators to have a safety management system, the employment of full time safety officers for audits, and CASA’s implementation of new regulations for the control of self-administered organisations, such as the APF. In recognition of these improvements the ATSB is closing this recommendation as partially addressed. However, the ATSB supports the Coroner’s position on these matters and agrees that more needs to be done to improve the safety of parachuting operations with paying participants.

Safety issue description

Classification of parachuting operations in the private category did not provide comparable risk controls to other similar aviation activities that involve the carriage of the general public for payment.

Response to the safety issue by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)

Under the applicable legislation, aircraft operations are classified as Regular Public Transport, Charter, Aerial Work or Private. As noted in the ATSB report, CASA classifies parachuting operations as private operations under CAR 2(7)(d) as the carriage of persons or goods without a charge. This interpretation is based on the conclusion that such operations involve activity of a kind substantially similar to those specified in the relevant sub-paragraphs, having regard to the intention of participants to make a parachute descent, with a payment being made for the parachute descent, not for the flight.

As noted in the ATSB report, parachute training operations vary in size and aircraft types. CASA’s focus is on safety and, recognising the risks inherent in these private operations, CASA has given directions regarding the conduct of parachute training operations by the Australian Parachute Federation (CASA Instrument 244/12 applied in 2014; CASA Instrument 06/16 applies currently). These directions impose general conditions regarding aircraft operation, pilot qualifications and maintenance of Class B aircraft as well as specific requirements in respect of supervision of parachute training operations, the conduct of parachute operations, equipment and radio procedures. There are also additional requirements regarding operations in controlled airspace, radio procedures in the vicinity of a CTAF, operations at certified or registered aerodromes and operations above 10,000’ AMSL.

The general conditions regarding aircraft operations in 244/12 required that the aircraft be operated in accordance with the APF Jump Pilot’s (JP) Handbook (now Manual) and that the pilot in command of a jump aircraft must hold an APF Jump Pilot authorisation. The JP Manual provides the framework under which the APF implements aviation standards for parachuting operations and issues competent pilots with Jump Pilot Authorisations. Jump Pilot requirements and responsibilities are defined in APF Operational Regulations Part 5 and Regulatory Schedule 56. Taken together, CASA believes these specific conditions provide for a measure of safety appropriate to the risks involved in the operations they govern.

Consistent with these considerations, CASA anticipates the development of a revised classification of aircraft operations framework that contemplates three broad classes of operations: Air Transport Operations; Aerial Work Operations; and General Aviation Operations. In most cases operations under CAR 2(7)(d) would fall under the General Aviation operations class, in which operations involve the carriage of passengers on a flight that is not provided on a commercial basis. The maximum number of persons that may be carried on an aircraft engaged in General Aviation would be limited, and the carriage of passengers above those numbers would trigger the application of a higher classification of operations or increased regulatory attention.

Within each of the three classes of operations, CASA’s regulatory program envisages that aircraft will be regulated to common baseline requirements, supplemented by additional requirements as may be necessary to mitigate additional risks. Specific regulatory requirements within each class will vary, depending on aircraft size, complexity of operations, number of persons on board, area of operation and specific operational risks. These, taken together, will determine the overall risk to safety posed by a particular operation.

In respect of parachuting, proposed CASR Part 91 (general operating and flight rules) and proposed Part 105 (parachuting from aircraft) will cover the baseline requirements (Part 91) and additional requirements (Part 105). Proposed CASR Part 105 will provide a regulatory basis for undertaking parachuting activities by an appropriately approved self-administering aviation organisation whose functions include administering a parachuting activity. Part 105 will incorporate the conditions attached to the current parachuting instruments and the pilot licensing and experience requirements in the APF operational regulations, as well as additional flight time requirements, into Regulation. Specifically, Part 105 will regulate:

  • obligations applying to parachute operators;
  • hazard mitigation;
  • the wearing of reserve parachutes;
  • pilot requirements for descents by trainee parachutists and tandem passengers;
  • pilot licensing, experience and flight time requirements;
  • aircraft operations
  • restraint of parachutists;
  • restrictions on aircraft occupants;
  • requirements for aircraft used for descents;
  • requirements relating to radio and oxygen equipment;
  • parachute defects.

CASA Instrument 244/12 (applied in 2014) and 06/16 as applies currently provide significant additional requirements for aircraft and pilots engaged in parachuting. Those requirements are based upon policies developed for proposed CASR Part 105 provide for an increased standard for the parachute operators above current baseline requirements; and in the future under proposed Part 105 above baseline proposed Part 91 requirements.

CASA Instrument 244/12 (applied in 2014) and 06/16 as applies currently provide significant additional requirements for aircraft and pilots engaged in parachuting. Those requirements are based upon policies developed for proposed CASR Part 105 provide for an increased standard for the parachute operators above current baseline requirements; and in the future under proposed Part 105 above baseline proposed Part 91 requirements.

While the classification of Operations is for a private operation, the APF JP manual requires the engines to be maintained in accordance with the charter requirements of AD/ENG/4 for piston engine overhaul at manufacturers TBO and AD/ENG/5 for Turbines. With the exception of some minor cabin trim defects, the maintenance release of an aircraft under "private" is essentially equivalent to a "charter" category. The long-term solution as mentioned above is the release of Part 105, which will specify parachute operations including "minimum maintenance for aircraft used for training and tandem parachute operations".

CASA advised that Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) Part 91 is expected to be made in late 2018 and commence in late 2019 with no planned transition period. CASR Part 105 is planned to be made in late 2018. At the time of writing, the commencement and transition periods for that part had not been determined.

Response to the safety issue by Australian Parachute Federation (APF)

In 2016, APF appointed three Safety and Training Managers. These full‑time employees replaced the previous volunteer Area Safety Officers who conducted audits throughout Australia on student training/tandem parachute organisations. The AFP assessed that this provided a more cohesive approach to the audit process.

The APF also mandated the requirement for each Student Training Organisation to have a safety management system (SMS) by 1 July 2016. The SMS is used to proactively assess and mitigate risk. The SMS is audited as part of the club audits by the APF on an annual basis.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) response:

The safety action taken by the AFP in appointing full‑time safety personnel and introducing SMS requirements to parachuting organisations is welcomed.

The ATSB acknowledges that, when introduced, CASR Part 91 and Part 105 provide an opportunity to increase the standard of parachute operations above the current baseline standards. However, use of the current CASA instrument 06/16 content as the policy basis for Part 105 offers limited assurance that effective risk controls such as key operational/maintenance personnel, pilot checking and training, formalised operating procedures and increased oversight will be applied to parachuting operations.

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified inadequate aircraft inspection and maintenance, pilot performance deficiencies and inadequate regulatory oversight and surveillance as recurring safety issues in parachuting operations. The ATSB considers that the introduction of the above risk controls, currently present in charter operations, would mitigate the issues identified by the NTSB. The relatively lower total accident rate for charter flights compared to private flights, supports that conclusion.

ATSB comment:

As a result, the ATSB has issued the following safety recommendation to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Safety recommendation

Action number: AO-2014-053-SR-020
Action organisation: Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
Date: 23 June 2017
Action status: Monitor

The ATSB recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority introduce risk controls to parachuting operations that provide increased assurance of aircraft serviceability, pilot competence and adequate regulatory oversight.

Additional correspondence

Response date: 17 August 2017
Response from: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Action status: Monitor
Response text:

There was insufficient evidence in the report to establish a connection between the accident flight being operated under the private category (i.e., not under an AOC) and the likely causes identified in the ATSB report that led to the aircraft loss of control.

As previously advised to the ATSB, CASA recognises that there should be (and is) a greater level of legislative requirement for the airlift component of parachute operations than of a generic private flight. CASA instrument 239/13 (at the time of the accident, now 06/16) imposed additional requirements as to the conduct of the accident flight, including pilot qualifications and aircraft maintenance requirements. There is a strong implication in the ATSB report that the CASA maintenance requirements may not have been followed in full, however, those requirements exist. Adherence to requirements is always open for consideration but the salient point here is that maintenance requirements were in place and more stringent than if the operator had been a conventional private operator.

Holding an AOC for a particular operation does not necessarily equate with a higher level of safety. It is the standards that are imposed by the requirement of an AOC or are imposed by other means that influence the level of safety of a particular operation. In this instance, parachuting operations were subject to a legislative instrument that facilitated but did not guarantee a safer operation compared to an operation conducted to purely private standards.

In general, aircraft maintenance appears to be a component of this event and the maintenance requirements are the same in this case whether the operator had an AOC or not. Perhaps there would have been potential for surveillance associated with an AOC holder. However, the significant intervals between surveillance activities for many GA operations would likely have precluded the opportunity to prevent this type of event.

ATSB comment date: 21 September 2018
ATSB comment:

The ATSB did not conclude that identified safety issue contributed to the development of the accident involving VH-FRT. That is consistent with its classification as one of the ‘Other factors that increased risk’ based on importance rather than as a ‘Contributing factor’.

With regard to the conduct of parachuting operations, the ATSB has not recommended that they should be conducted under an AOC. What has been recommended is that risk controls similar to those in place for charter operations such as:

  • key operational and maintenance personnel;
  • pilot checking and training;
  • formalised operating procedures;
  • increased oversight;

be introduced in to parachuting operations. The absence of these risk controls has been identified by the United States National Transportation Safety Board as contributory to parachuting occurrences.

The ATSB notes that a Coronial inquest relating to the accident involving VH‑FRT will be conducted in September 2018. That inquiry will provide a valuable opportunity to further consider this safety issue, including its resolution. As such, it will remain open until the conclusion of the Coronial proceedings.

Response from: Coroner
Action status: Closed
Response text:

Coronial information

In response to the ATSB recommendation on the classification of operations the Coroner stated the following:

I note the advent of CASR Part 149 and the suite of proposed regulations relating to general operating and flight rules (CASR Part 91) and parachuting from aircraft (Part 105) are intended to clarify and provide a more robust regulatory basis for the conduct of parachuting activities under the scheme of self-administration presently maintained by CASA. The recommendations of the ATSB that CASA introduces appropriate “risk control” measures in respect of parachuting operations that provide “increased assurance of aircraft serviceability, pilot competence and adequate regulatory oversight” are supported.

…in evidence, and CASA in its submissions, gave assurances that CASA would embrace those ATSB recommendations in the rollout of the new system. Those assurances were subject to the caveat that the clear policy position of the Commonwealth Government was that parachuting operations will not be regulated in the same way or to the same extent as commercial charter operations.

Notwithstanding these assurances, the legislated measures require CASA and the APF to give urgent attention to ensuring a common understanding of the regulatory role of CASA in relation to the ‘airlift component’ of parachuting operations and the limitations of the APF to truly undertake effective surveillance or auditing of that component.

If CASA is to maintain the fiction that tandem parachutists are not to be viewed as passengers in a commercial air operation during the airlift component of a parachute sortie, because they are not seated in a conventional seat on an aircraft (with the consequence that the entirety of the operation is to be viewed as ‘private’) it is imperative that CASA ensures that the risks of rejecting the AOC system are minimised to the greatest extent possible.

Strengthening the test for accreditation as a “fit and proper person” and putting in place training and checking systems, pilot supervision under a clear ‘chain of command’, operations manuals, safety management systems that provide for pilot-to-pilot consultation on air safety matters and regular compliance checks are arguably appropriate for all air transport operations, including the airlift component of adventure aviation activities.

The Coroner made specific recommendations in the area of risk controls for parachuting operations, they were as follows:

Recommendation 1

I recommend that the APF revise its policies and procedures for the assessment of whether candidates for and holders of the position of Chief Instructor and others in control of parachuting organisations are ‘fit and proper persons’ and of ‘good repute’.

Recommendation 3

I recommend a thorough review of the requirements of the CASA-approved APF Jump Pilot Manual, and its suitability for providing appropriate risk-based standards for all air operations conducted by APF club members.

Recommendation 4

I recommend that CASA and the APF review the implications for public safety of low-time or part-time jump pilots flying sorties in aircraft owned by APF club members and organisations not controlled by persons with the background and experience of an AOC operator. Issues that should receive particular attention include:

(a) the level of training that jump pilots should be receiving and the introduction of specified and appropriately rigorous standards that would apply to jump pilots conducting flights transporting tandem parachutists to the point of departure from the aircraft;

(b) The need for more regular proficiency checks of jump pilots with a qualified examiner, in accordance with a checking syllabus approved by CASA where the syllabus would focus on matters germane to the airlift component of flights carrying tandem parachutists;

(c) The creation of a new operational rating or endorsement with special attention to moulding or expanding the application of the general competency rule contained in regulation 61.385 of the CASR to jump pilots to ensure a far higher standard of airmanship by jump pilots than is presently required; and

(d) Surveillance of the ‘airlift component’ of parachuting operations by CASA flying operations inspectors on a regular or systematic basis accompanied, where resources permit, by area safety officers of the APF.

ATSB comment date: 06 November 2020
ATSB comment:

The Queensland State Coroner supported the ATSB’s findings and the recommendation for increased risk controls for parachuting operations. The Coroner also made recommendations based on the information provided during the Coronial inquest. They included recommendations for improvements in key personnel approvals, operational risk controls, increased pilot experience requirements and increased direct surveillance of parachute operations by CASA in conjunction with the APF.

Last update 06 November 2020