Speech - Cabin Crew Ratios on Australian Aircraft

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:31): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, I present the committee's report entitled Finding the right balance: cabin crew ratios on Australian aircraft, incorporating a dissenting report together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ms BIRD: I acknowledge my deputy chair in the chamber as we present the report. On 2 March 2011, the committee resolved to inquire into the ratio of cabin crew members on aircraft following a request from the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. In particular, we were asked to inquire into and report on: the current aviation safety regulatory system for aircraft operators in relation to the application of the cabin crew to passenger ratio, including current exemption provisions; the role of cabin crew in managing both passenger safety and security; the factors that determine the cabin crew to passenger ratio; domestic and international practice in respect of the cabin crew to passenger ratio; and finally measures to enhance aviation safety that may be considered in future requirements on aircraft operators for a safety risk management plan covering the cabin crew to passenger ratio.

Currently, the CASA regulations stipulate that Australian domestic aircraft carrying between 16 and 216 passengers must carry at least one cabin crew member for every 36 passengers or part thereof—that is known as the one-to-36 passenger ratio. Since 2006, CASA has issued directions to many Australian airlines that effectively exempt them from abiding by the one-to-36 passenger regulation, allowing them to operate certain aircraft at a one-to-50 passenger seat ratio subject to conditions. The first of these directions came into play shortly after the passage of the Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment (Mutual Recognition with New Zealand) Bill 2005. Four years later, in February 2010, CASA began a consultation process to formalise what was becoming accepted practice at one cabin crew member for every 50 passenger seats, including some other changes that were proposed. The committee heard the current proposal is not the first time CASA has considered changing Australia's cabin crew ratio to one to 50. There have been at least three prior reviews of the proposal stretching back to at least 1997. On each occasion it was decided to retain the existing one-to-36 ratio.

This particular inquiry of the committee invited submissions from both individuals and organisations. The inquiry was included in the fortnightly House of Representatives advertisement in the Australian on 9 March 2011. Details of the inquiry were made available on the committee's website. The committee received 17 written submissions, including four supplementary submissions, mainly from airlines and employee associations, although a small number of individual submissions were also received. The committee conducted three public hearings—one in Sydney and two in Canberra.

The conclusions in the report indicate several witnesses made the point that due to a lack of comparative studies there is no definitive proof that a one-to-36 passenger ratio is any more, or indeed less, safe than a one-to-50 seat ratio. It was therefore not clear whether introducing a one-to-50 seat ratio would have any significant effect on aircraft safety. This basic conclusion led to the range of recommendations the committee is putting forward in the report.

The committee recommends that CASA cease providing new exemptions to the one-to-36 passenger ratio, and that those exemptions currently in place not be renewed upon their expiry so that the rule-making process can be completed. The committee recommends that CASA more widely advertise proposed rule changes that directly affect passengers, using publications such as in-flight magazines that are read widely by the travelling public. The committee also recommends that CASA publish on its website the submissions received during its review to help improve the transparency of that rule-making process. Erring on the side of caution, the point was crucial to the committee's decision to make a final recommendation that there should not be a change to the current cabin crew ratio until it can be demonstrated that changing the ratio will not compromise safety and security on Australian airlines. We welcome CASA's willingness to cooperate with the inquiry and to consider its recommendations.

In conclusion I want to thank the members of the committee and the secretary, Julia Morris; our researchers, Shane Armstrong and James Nelson; and the admin staff of the committee, Tamara Palmer and Peter Pullen, for their assistance in our inquiries.

In accordance with standing order 39(f), the report was made a parliamentary paper.