(There are updates from CASA and the ATSB at the end of this post.)

Wednesday night’s ditching of a Pel-Air CareFlight medivac Westwind jet is being turned into a media circus by the airline and some very susceptible reporters.

First reported in the Crikey subscriber email today, the incident which left six people, half of them without life jackets, in the sea for at least 60 minutes awaiting rescue after their jet ran out of fuel, has even been compared to the actions of heroic Captain Chesley Sullenberger in landing the US Airways A320 on the Hudson River last January.

What a load of weak minded idiotic drivel.

And John Sharp, a former aviation minister, put up this ridiculous statement this morning as chairman of Pel-Air Aviation, which is owned by REX, the regional carrier.

John Sharp, Chairman of Pel-Air Aviation said that he was very proud of the Captain and the First Officer. “They performed an intricate landing on water in darkness resulting in the evacuation of everyone safely and quickly. The training of both the Pel-Air and CareFlight crew came to the fore as everyone kept together and remained calm. Their professionalism stood out on the day and made a substantial difference to the outcome.”

The nonsense words we have highlighted are ‘very proud’ and ‘professionalism’.

The pilot, Captain Dominic James, ditched a plane carrying passengers in the sea in the dark because he ran out of fuel. That isn’t professionalism.

Where exactly is the professionalism in Pel-Air when it operates a flight that is inadequately fuelled for a worst case diversion, such as depressurisation, or a closed airport, and has no where to go but into the drink, instead of having the juice to divert to the nearest airport in New Zealand or New Caledonia.

For John Sharp to say he is ‘very proud’ of this situation suggests he has forgotten everything he ever knew about aviation and flight standards, or has no knowledge of or respect for the regulations as set out later in this post.

On the ABC tonight Sharp says there was no Plan B if the weather turned nasty.But the weather had been nasty for quite some time on Norfolk island yesterday. One of the principles of safe airline operation is to always have a Plan B, and the fuel to carry it out.

If it turns out that this flight was operated in accordance with the companies operating manual, which is one of the requirements of its AOC or air operator certificate, then CASA is in serious trouble for lack of diligence in approving it. It the flight wasn’t carried out in accordance with the regulations CASA must surely serve a show cause notice in relation to the potential cancellation of its AOC and prosecute the owners and board of the company, who have very serious responsibilities in aviation law.

And even if the conduct of the flight met the conditions required by the company, what sort of a company are we dealing with when this sort of crash is, as Sharp’s comment imply, a consequence of deliberately flying with only a Plan A?

Here is the relevant extract from the regulation CAO 82.0 concerning the Pel-Air flight:

1 Application
1.1 This Part applies to Air Operators’ Certificates authorising aerial work
operations, charter operations and regular public transport operations and sets out conditions to which such certificates are subject for the purposes of…

remote island means:

(a) Christmas Island; or
(b) Lord Howe Island; or

(c) Norfolk Island.

2.3 The minimum safe fuel for an aeroplane undertaking a flight to a remote
island is:

(a) the minimum amount of fuel that the aeroplane should carry on that

flight, according to the operations manual of the aeroplane’s operator,

revised (if applicable) as directed by CASA to ensure that an adequate

amount of fuel is carried on such flights; or

(b) if the operations manual does not make provision for the calculation of
that amount or has not been revised as directed by CASA — whichever

of the amounts of fuel mentioned in paragraph 2.4 is the greater.

2.4 For the purposes of subparagraph 2.3 (b), the amounts of fuel are:

(a) the minimum amount of fuel that will, whatever the weather conditions, enable the aeroplane to fly, with all its engines operating, to the remote island and then from the remote island to the aerodrome that is, for that flight, the alternate aerodrome for the aircraft, together with any reservefuel requirements for the aircraft; and

(b) the minimum amount of fuel that would, if the failure of an engine or a
loss of pressurisation were to occur during the flight, enable the


(i) to fly to its destination aerodrome or to its alternate aerodrome for the flight; and
(ii) to fly for 15 minutes at holding speed at 1 500 feet above that aerodrome under standard temperature conditions; and

(iii) to land at that aerodrome.

Suggestion: CASA should act immediately in relation to these prima facie violations of CAO 82.0 (subsection 2.4) and prosecute the owners and board of the airline for multiple offences.

CASA should also conduct a full audit and review of every aspect of Pel-Air’s operations and its fitness to hold its AOC, with particular regard to its fuel reserve policies.

Update 4.15 pm Friday November 20

A CASA spokesman said:

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the ditching of the Pel-Air Westwind aircraft at Norfolk Island and any comment on the investigation must come from them.

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.

CASA is examining issues relating to the planning of the flight that ditched at Norfolk Island.

Update from the ATSB at 5.15 pm

A spokesman for the ATSB said that the jet was in around 30-36 metres of water, but that a decision on whether the data recorders (black boxes) would be recovered would not be made until after the pilots were interviewed next week.

The other four persons on board would also be interviewed.

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