Regional engagement

Helping our neighbours

The ATSB has an active program of regional engagement with other transport safety agencies, over and above that required by international obligations. Australia’s reputation for high quality and rigorous investigations makes it uniquely placed to assist transport safety in the Asia Pacific region. Over the last 25 years, Australian investigators have assisted our regional neighbours in a number of complex investigations.

Many countries do not have a well-developed capability to investigate accidents and serious incidents. In this situation, the ATSB believes that the establishment of a regional accident investigation organisation or the creation of a regional pool of qualified investigators may be the best way to establish an effective accident and incident investigation and prevention system. Australia will pursue opportunities in this regard in the Asia Pacific region, including taking a leading role in the ICAO Asia Pacific Accident Investigation Group (APAC AIG) and the Marine Accident Investigations Forum in Asia (MAIFA).

The ATSB has specific programs of cooperation with the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Accident Investigation Commission (AIC).  These activities are supported by funding from the Australian government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The strategic intent and focus of the ATSB’s regional engagement is outlined below.

Strategic intent

The strategic intent of the ATSB's program of regional engagement is to improve transport safety for the benefit of our regional neighbours and the Australian travelling public.

ATSB assistance will be directed at helping our regional neighbours strengthen their transport safety capability and to meet their international obligations related to transport safety.

The rationale for the ATSB's regional engagement

The ATSB's commitment to regional engagement and capability building is in line with:

  • Australian Government policy
  • Australia's international obligations under ICAO and IMO
  • ATSB operational benefit.

Australian Government policy

The ATSB's involvement in transport safety capability-building in the Asia Pacific region supports Australian government policies administered in the Infrastructure and Transport and Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolios.

As outlined in the Aviation White Paper1, "aviation safety does not stop at national boundaries and Australia will remain a key contributor on safety in international forums, particularly ICAO, and in our own region." Accordingly, the Minister directed that agencies "continue Australia's engagement in the region, established by the Indonesia Transport Safety Assistance Package, the Strongim Gavman Program and work in the Pacific Aviation Safety Office, to improve regional aviation safety".

In addition, Australia has a commitment to being a good international citizen and regional neighbour. This includes a range of aid and capability building programs by Australian government departments and agencies. As outlined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs2, "Australia is committed to an aid program that is generous, effective and in Australia's national interest - a program that reflects Australian generosity and which enhances Australia's reputation as a good international citizen".

As well as promoting Australia's standing in the region and upholding our broader international obligations, it is in Australia's best interests to work for stability, safety and security in the countries that are our regional neighbours.

Australia's international obligations under ICAO and IMO

The ATSB's program of regional engagement is in line with the philosophy and initiatives of both the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The ICAO framework

The very nature of ICAO rests on the notion of international cooperation. The Chicago Convention on International Aviation was based on the ideal of promoting "cooperation between nations and peoples" (p. 1).

ICAO promotes cooperation between Contracting States in all matters relating to civil aviation. There is an acknowledgement that some ICAO States lack the resources to comply with ICAO standards and recommended practices on their own, and that the international community has a responsibility to assist those States to meet acceptable standards. For example, this approach is emphasised in Resolution A37-8 of the ICAO 37th Assembly (October 2010), Regional cooperation and assistance to resolve safety-related deficiencies, which (p. 13), "Urges Contracting States to develop and further strengthen regional and sub-regional cooperation in order to promote the highest degree of aviation safety".

The regional assistance activities of Australian aviation agencies, including the ATSB, are highlighted as one of the 'Safety Assistance Success Stories' outlined in the ICAO 2011 State of Global Aviation Safety report3.

The IMO framework

Similar to ICAO, the IMO places significant emphasis on cooperation between States. For example, the IMO has an extensive Technical Co-operation Programme which concentrates on improving the ability of developing countries to help themselves. The program concentrates on developing human resources through maritime training and similar activities. As outlined by the IMO Secretary-General4, "Technical co-operation is seen as one of the most important parts of IMO's work and something that can make a real difference in the places where it is most needed".

ATSB operational benefit

Like all ICAO Contracting States, Australia often needs to work cooperatively with other States in order to achieve its objectives. The ability to do this is significantly enhanced by building good relationships with the safety investigation agencies of other States, so that when an accident occurs the ATSB already has effective mechanisms in place to facilitate good communication and cooperation.

The philosophy and principles underlying the ATSB's regional engagement

The philosophy underpinning the ATSB's regional engagement is one of cooperation and mutual respect. This is exemplified by the ATSB's commitment to engagement with our counterpart agencies at all levels - from the Chief Commissioner, through the General Managers and Managers, to investigators and other ATSB staff. Involvement at all levels is important in order to develop engagement that has continuity, balance and depth.

An honest approach

The ATSB carries its out regional engagement work in a way that is unbiased, open, and accountable. The ATSB does not have an 'agenda', and works with our counterpart agencies to develop programs that are mutually beneficial and that accord with the policies of both Australia and the other State.

The ATSB acknowledges the experience, knowledge, and capability that exists within other States in the region, often in spite of their limited resources. The ATSB works cooperatively to develop programs that take appropriate account of local conditions and sensitivities.

Improvements that last

A key principle of the ATSB's program of regional engagement is that, to the greatest extent possible, activities are aimed at capability building rather than service provision. That is, rather than 'doing things', the aim is to help our partner agencies develop the capability to 'do those things'.

For example, wherever possible, project activities take a 'train-the-trainer' approach. This is illustrated by a successful project in which ATSB support enabled the Indonesian NTSC to develop and present a Human Factors course run entirely by NTSC investigators.

The type of capability building support that the ATSB is able to provide includes advice and guidance related to:

  • legislation and regulations for accident notification and investigation related activities
  • investigation function/agency structure and staffing
  • investigation function/agency policy and procedures
  • training for investigators and investigation support staff
  • 'first responders' awareness training.

There for the long haul

The ATSB's regional assistance program acknowledges that sustainable capability building is a long term process. Sometimes there will be quick gains, but often the results are incremental over time. While capability building must be guided by milestones along the way, it is also a journey where both the ATSB and the counterpart agency commit resources in partnership over an extended period of time.

The focus of the ATSB's regional engagement

Our immediate neighbours

The focus of the ATSB's regional engagement, like that of the majority of Australian international assistance, is on the Asia-Pacific region. However, a particular focus of the ATSB's programs is the South-West Pacific, and specifically, the countries that form the Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) - Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, together with Australia and New Zealand. This is a region where Australia has historic involvement and where, together with New Zealand, it would be expected to provide assistance in the event of a major aviation accident.

The individual PASO States do not have the necessary resources to develop an aviation accident investigation capability, either as a standalone agency, or as a functional area within their civil aviation administration. Even developing this capability as a regional group is a significant undertaking, given competing demands on the States' limited resources. Nevertheless, over time, it is possible that significant steps could be made in the right direction, given support by Australia and other States with the capacity to assist.

The ATSB will explore the most effective ways to support the development of a standing investigation capability in the PASO region. In doing this, it is working cooperatively with other regional States that have the resources to assist, such as New Zealand and Singapore.

Playing to strengths

In developing a program of regional engagement ATSB takes advantage of opportunities to apply its finite resources to best effect.

For example, the PNG Accident Investigation Commission (AIC) already has, and continues to develop, an investigation capability that considerably exceeds that which PNG has had in recent times. Hence, ATSB assistance to the AIC is an example of one of the main messages of the 2010 report, Review of the PNG-Australia Development Cooperation Treaty5; namely, the theme of 'building on success'. As the report states, capability building programs should "strive to back winners, to help those doing a good job do more" and "where things are functioning, provide resources".

The creation of the AIC as a new organisation is a once-off opportunity to introduce and embed 'best practice' in PNG air safety investigation. In the language of the Australian government Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness6, there is an opportunity to build capability by applying resources at a 'tipping point'.


The ATSB's regional capability building work is supported by Australian government programs such as the Government Partnerships Fund (GPF) and funding associated with the Australia-PNG Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Transport Sector.


On March 2007, a Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737 crashed while attempting to land at Yogyakarta airport in central Java. The accident claimed 21 lives, with others receiving serious injuries. Five of those who lost their lives were Australians. This tragic accident lead to the development of the Australian government Indonesia Transport Safety Assistance Package (ITSAP).

Under ITSAP, Australia has worked closely with the Government of Indonesia to develop a package of measures to address areas identified by Indonesia as its key transport safety priorities.

The main elements of the ATSB's contribution to ITSAP have been to deliver training and support for investigators from the ASTB's Indonesian counterpart agency, the National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC). This includes the ATSB providing staff dedicated to various capacity building projects, funding ATSB training courses in Indonesia and Australia, and opportunities for aviation, marine, and rail investigators to work with their ATSB counterparts for extended periods.

This cooperation between the ATSB and the NTSC is one of the key elements in ensuring lasting transportation safety for the people of Indonesia and Australian travellers to Indonesia.

Papua New Guinea

Under the Australia-PNG Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Transport Sector, the ATSB has an ongoing program of cooperation and capability building with the PNG Accident Investigation Commission (AIC).

Safe and efficient air transport is a key requirement for the well-being and economic development of any nation. This is particularly so in PNG, given its geographical nature, with mountainous terrain and many islands.

The AIC has a key role in aviation safety in PNG. Enhancing the capability of the PNG to carry out aviation safety investigations in a thorough and timely manner will enable the identification of areas of safety concern, and will promote safety action by government and aviation industry organisations in PNG.

The ATSB has provided training to AIC investigators and investigation support staff, and ATSB investigators have provided on-site guiding and mentoring to AIC investigators.

In September 2012, an ATSB senior investigator was deployed full-time to the AIC to assist PNG to develop the capability to meet the international requirements for aviation safety investigation. The ATSB deployee provides advisory support to the AIC and to guide and mentor AIC investigators in all aspects of their work.



1. Flight Path to the Future: National Aviation Policy White Paper. Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. December 2009, p. 19.

2. Australia's International Development Assistance: A Good International Citizen. Ministerial Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. May 2010, p. iii.

3. 2011 State of Global Aviation Safety. International Civil Aviation Organization, December 2011, p. 32.

4. Maritime Policy and Management —Celebrating 30 Years. IMO Secretary-General. August 2003, p. 1.

5. Review of the PNG-Australia Development Cooperation Treaty (1999). Report to the PNG and Australian Governments, April 2010, p. 1.

6. Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness. Presented to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, April 2011, p. 14.