The managing director of REX, Jim Davis, now says that the emergency descent made by one of its SAAB 340s on its way from Sydney to Wagga Wagga on 7 May was ‘just a maintenance error and nothing wrong with the plane.’

Sorry. Just a maintenance error is scarcely a reason for brushing off the incident as a non-event as also reported in the Riverina’s Daily Advertiser.

Davis similarly played down the significance of an incident on 22 November 2007 when a REX flight shut down one engine shortly after leaving Wagga Wagga for Sydney because of a warning light.

On that occasion a guess, a correct guess, was made that the indication was faulty, but the flight then continued on only one engine all the way to Sydney, about one hour away, rather than immediately land at the nearest suitable airport.

Had that engine for any reason failed the result, while at reduced height over rugged terrain could have seen a ‘guess’ turn into a tragic gamble.

It was a clear breach of Civil Aviation orders CAO Part 20 Section 20.6. The incident was not investigated by the ATSB, leaving mainline Qantas and Virgin Blue pilots astonished, given the seriousness of such a violation.

SAAB 340s are no longer in production. REX is the second largest operator of the type in the world. It stands a very good chance with a fleet of 45 of them of finding out important things about how this aircraft handles increased age, and the treaty obligation of Australia to ICAO is to investigate all significant incidents and accidents so that issues can be detected and acted upon in the interests of safety world wide among all operators.

Such investigations have resulted in scores of changes to the operations or critical parts of widely used Airbus and Boeing and particularly, aged aircraft and Australia has contributed to that process with distinction through the ATSB.

Why therefore, should REX and its SAAB 340s be different? An admission of a maintenance error leading to a cabin depressurisation seems like a damn good reason for CASA to conduct its own audit of REX.

But of course, CASA just failed in critical areas to satisfy an ICAO audit of its aviation safety oversight, and last year proved its inadequacy in relation to Qantas in the course of its own ‘special audit’ of the airline.

This morning David Klein, a former CASA airworthiness inspector, wrote, “your recent article concerning the damning ICAO audit report on CASA, may place some pressure on the new CEO and future board to address the concerns I have had for many years about the unrealistic regime of audit and limited manpower resources available at the Sydney office to effectively oversight Qantas.”

Klein also referenced his submission to the Senate Inquiry into CASA’s administration last year which was also accepted as part of a submission to the government’s aviation green paper process (with the final white paper due sometime in the near future.)

He writes, “If you review my Senate Enquiry submission and interview transcript I have been concerned for some time about the level of resources allocated to the CASA Sydney office for the effective airworthiness oversight of Qantas. In having only a total of eight airworthiness inspectors, allocated to not only oversight Qantas, but also other regional airlines is a nonsense and my worst fears are that Qantas will need to lose an aircraft before manpower is increased, by what appears to be a CASA management tombstone mentality on increasing resources at Sydney.”

After reading his links to this material, the submissions here, and his and other testimony here,  it is clear that the government, and CASA has no place to hide in relation to the mismanagement of air safety oversight in Australia.

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