Australia: The Importance of the Chief Pilot to an Air Operator's Certificate

Trade & Transport Bulletin
Last Updated: 11 November 2010
Article by Andrew Tulloch

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal recently was required to consider whether the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) can issue an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) to an organisation if the proposed operator does not have a current chief pilot.

In White v Civil Aviation Safety Authority (2010) AATA 604, Senior Member McCabe rejected an application for renewal of an AOC on the basis that the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (the Act) requirements for an AOC could not be satisfied.


John White was a director of Heli-Co Australia Pty Ltd, a company owning a helicopter charter business. He first became a director and took an interest in the company around August 2007 at which time the company held an AOC.

Shortly after that date the chief pilot left the company, and Mr White notified CASA of the ownership change and of the departure of the chief pilot and assured CASA that the company was not conducting flying operations. CASA varied the AOC accordingly.

In January 2010, John White lodged an application to renew the AOC even though the company had not yet secured the services of a chief pilot. CASA rejected the application.

The legislative framework

Section 28 of the Act provides that CASA must issue the AOC if, and only if various requirements can be satisfied. Included in the requirements is the obligation for CASA to be satisfied about aspects of the applicant's organisation including appointment of 'key personnel' in the company.

Section 28(3) of the Act defines 'key personnel' to include:

  • the chief executive officer
  • the head of the flying operations part of the organisation
  • the head of the aircraft airworthiness and maintenance control part (if any) of the organisation
  • the head of the training and checking part (if any) of the Organisation
  • any other position prescribed by the Regulation.

The arguments raised

CASA took the view that the absence of a chief pilot meant that Heli-Co could not satisfy the obligations in relation to key personnel under the Act, and that it was in these circumstances not permitted to issue an AOC.

John White accepted that Heli-Co did not comply with CASA requirements. He said that nothing had changed since the period before the previous AOC expired and if the previous AOC could remain in place then it should be able to be renewed.

The finding

Senior Member McCabe noted that the meaning of the legislation was reasonably clear. CASA was obliged to issue an AOC if satisfied as to the various matters in the Act, but so too if not satisfied that an organisation met the criteria CASA must not issue an AOC.

Senior Member McCabe considered that there was no difference between an original application or a renewal application, as a renewal application is in reality one for a fresh AOC and the criteria must be satisfied at the time of the application.

Although Mr White submitted that the lack of an AOC significantly diminished the value of his business, which he was negotiating to sell, Senior Member McCabe took the view that this was an irrelevant consideration in applying the legislative requirements.

Accordingly, the application for an AOC was properly declined as CASA's hands (and those of the Tribunal) were tied.


The decision seems to be a sensible one although one can sympathise (as did Senior Member McCabe) with the applicant's position. In hindsight, CASA may have regretted allowing the AOC to remain in force after notification of the loss of the chief pilot in August 2007. Perhaps suspension of the AOC at that time would have been more appropriate.

© DLA Phillips Fox

DLA Phillips Fox is one of the largest legal firms in Australasia and a member of DLA Piper Group, an alliance of independent legal practices. It is a separate and distinct legal entity. For more information visit

This publication is intended as a first point of reference and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to any particular circumstances.

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