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CASA changes fuel rules as Pel-Air crash report draws nearer

The Pel-Air wreckage, down with the fishes on the sea floor near Norfolk Island.

The Pel-Air wreckage, down with the fishes on the sea floor near Norfolk Island.

The air safety regulator, CASA, has proposed fuel rule changes which would have outlawed the conduct of the Pel-Air aerial ambulance flight that ditched into the sea near Norfolk Island last November 18.

This is a sign that the final ATSB report into the crash is getting closer, because the implementation of safety actions arising from its inquiries are almost always agreed upon in advance of their release.

It’s a process that allows the ATSB to say that “it is satisfied” with such actions, which coincidentally reduces the risk of public scrutiny of the root causes of whatever particular incident is being investigated.

Note the reference to air ambulance work in the notice (below) on the CASA web site.

The proposed fuel rule changes summary on the CASA web site

The proposed fuel rule changes summary on the CASA web site

The Pel-Air Westwind small jet with six people on board left Apia on a medivac flight to Melbourne on November 18 last year via a refuelling stop at Norfolk Island without enough fuel to reach an alternative airport if it was unable to land there.

After four attempts to land in bad weather it was flown wheels retracted into the sea, leaving the six occupants treading water for 90 minutes in the dark.

CASA said on November 20:

CASA has legal requirements for air operators to carry sufficient fuel to undertake a flight safely. This includes additional fuel to deal with delays caused by weather or other factors and enough fuel to divert to alternate aerodromes.

That statement is in doubt in the light of the proposed fuel rule changes for all flights to remote islands, with CASA confirming in the full document it has released on the changes that it never had a regulation that imposed such a basic standard of flight safety on air ambulances.

The Pel-Air ditching achieved tabloid notoriety because the airline initially sought to turn the captain of the small jet, Dominic James, into a hero, which in turn lead to photos of him incongruously posing shirtless beside a swimming pool during a publicity shoot as a candidate Cleo Bachelor of the Year.

CASA saw his conduct of the flight differently, and suspended his pilot licence late last year.

The proposed rule change will require pilots of flights like that being attempted by Pel-Air to name and plan for an alternative airport prior to departure, including extra fuel beyond that required for a diversion in a fully operational jet to an amount that would also cope with the loss of one engine and a cabin depressurisation , each of which reduce the altitude at which a jet can fly, and increase its subsequent overall fuel consumption.


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  • 1
    David Klein
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately CASA legislation is still full of holes in the rules applying to Private, Aerial Work and Charter operations. I cannot understand how parachute jumping operations are still under Private category and do not require an AOC, with the significant revenue generated and the consequences of a fatal accident of a large twin engine aircraft with 10 parachutists on board.

  • 2
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Why is it necessary for CASA to change these rules? Immediately an aircraft enters international airspace it comes under ICAO rules which require appropriate reserves which would have prevented this accident.

    Based on published sources, there is somebody at CASA who is empowered to approve operator’s manuals, yet understands so little about aviation that he/she saw fit to approve this manual which authorised flight without adequate reserve fuel. Anyone with a pilot’s license would have been really disturbed by that, and would not have approved the manual.

    CASA bureaucrats should understand enough about aviation to see that that is unsafe. They should have this understanding before being authorised to approve operator’s manuals.