PEOPLE using the lifeline air services in the Highland and Islands have the right to know that their flights are safe, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has insisted.
Speaking to Shetland News, the MSP for the Highland and Islands said she was “perplexed” why a report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) into an incident at Kirkwall Airport was treated as top secret.
On 5 April this year the Loganair evening flight to Edinburgh took off with 33 passengers and three crew on board after air traffic controllers – working to rule as part as a network-wide industrial dispute – had already gone home, with the airport technically closed.
Both airport operator HIAL and Loganair have insisted that there had been no breach of rules or aircraft safety, but a CAA investigation identified areas that needed further action.
What these areas are and what action was needed, however, the CAA refuses to reveal, and any attempts by local politicians (see below) and concerned members of the public to find out from the CAA, HIAL or the Scottish Government via the freedom of information (FOI) process have drawn a blank.
“The CAA investigated, so they obviously saw something that was not normal, but what they investigated, what they found and whether there was any actions taken, or any recommendations made – that seems to be top secret,” Grant said.
“If I was HIAL or Loganair and if I knew that the CAA weren’t going hold me to account or indeed made public anything they had found, why would I share it?
“They are really not held to account by the CAA, and I think that is the problem.”
She added it was obvious to the observer that some changes had been made as several late afternoon/evening services to and from Kirkwall had been cancelled during the summer due to shortages of staff.
“Whatever was wrong has been put right in that it has never happened again,” the Labour MSP said, “but the real worry is ‘why did it happen in the first place?’
“People on that flight need to know whether their safety was in any way put in danger.”
In declining to make the finding of the investigation public, the CAA said reports of this nature would not be released to protect the organisation’s ability to respond and investigate claims made by whistleblowers, and confidentiality was a key element in that.
The CAA said whistleblowers might be reluctant to come forward if reports based on their claims were published.
The agency also said it often had access to information that was provided to them on a ‘commercial in confidence’ basis, and the release of such information into the public domain was likely to cause organisation to be less open with the CAA.
Grant said in her view the commercial partners argument was not valid, as the concerns regarding the Kirkwall incident were about safety and not commercially sensitivity.
“People on that flight have a right to know and at the moment we are failed by all the processes.
“One of the things you would expect is for a government run service to be at least transparent. Safety has to be transparent,” she said.
22 November 2019 9:30am: In response to this story a Loganair spokesman added later: “The CAA regulates all UK licensed airlines and airports. It has reviewed the actions taken by all parties in relation to the flight departure from Kirkwall on 5 April, but aviation safety reports are covered by strict EU confidentiality rules (EU 376/2014) which afford protection to reporters and participants in CAA reviews.
“There is a highly-developed aviation reporting and safety culture, now being copied by other safety-critical industries, which is consciously designed to preclude political intervention in such issues, and I’m pleased to see that the EU Regulation is proving effective in this case.”