The CASA grounding of Tiger Airways is not just about a suspension of its flights until next Saturday.
The continuation of the suspension is a matter for the Federal Court. But the continuation of Tiger as an Australian domestic carrier depends on its having the confidence and trust of CASA and the public, and the consequences of this suspension are lethal to its brand value.
Whatever the court may decide, the regulator decided that Tiger posed an imminent threat to public safety. It is important to keep in mind that in this case, the court is concerned with procedural fairness and related matters, while CASA determines the safety related issues.
CASA has also decided that it has no confidence in Tiger’s ability to address a range of safety issues it has identified including fatigue management, pilot proficiency, pilot checking, safety management and maintenance oversight.
This means it has lost confidence in the current managers of Tiger, those in its Australian based management, and those, which to CASA’s already expressed concern, were in Singapore but responsible for processes that CASA wanted managed in person in Australia.
Without prejudice to whatever decision the court may make about the continuation of the suspension of Tiger’s licence to fly in this country, these issues will not go away in five working days.
CASA can veto the appointment of individuals it considers unsatisfactory to a range of safety sensitive positions in airlines.
In Tiger’s three and a half years in Australia Crikey and Plane Talking have reported the indifference of Tiger’s management to safety issues, including its insistence when it failed to report an aileron problem on one of its A320s to the ATSB on the grounds that it decided what parts of the Australian regulations applied to its operations.
The ATSB rolled over on this. But CASA hasn’t. It has patiently documented a range of issues of concern, leading to the show cause notice served on the carrier in March, and its discovery of yet more issues when it began working through Tiger’s responses to that notice.
As CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told the media this morning, the incident that tipped the scales at CASA to an immediate grounding of the airline was the incident on Thursday night when a Tiger A320 flight from Sydney aborted a landing at Avalon airport, and while returning to land, descending well below the safe minimum altitude when it was 15 kilometres from the runway, and failed to properly communicate with air traffic control.
It was the second Tiger flight into a Melbourne airport at an unsafe altitude in less than a month, following a similar incident while approaching the main airport at Tullamarine on June 7.
This was not just a procedural matter for CASA. The job description of CASA’s senior management could also be said to be preventing a major airline disaster from occurring during the term of whomever is the responsible minister of the day, and the arrogance and incompetence displayed by Tiger’s management has screaming headlines, body bags and a Royal Commission written all over it.
The last time CASA came anywhere close to acting in this manner was in the Christmas 2000 Ansett 767 groundings and the Easter 2001 groundings in which the same fleet was again grounded and Ansett itself threatened with a show cause notice.
One of the extraordinary aspects of this unprecedented grounding of a mainline Australian carrier is that it was totally avoidable on Tiger’s part. Yet neither Tony Davis the president and CEO of the entire Singapore owned and based Tiger Airways group, nor Crawford Rix, its Australian based managing director, proved capable of addressing CASA’s concerns.
The testimony Tony Davis gave to the recent Senate Inquiry into pilot training and airline safety was either delusional or deliberately misleading as to Tiger’s processes and standards and priorities. Davis has had ample opportunity to fix the issues and he has failed, completely.
CASA’s CEO, John McCormick, is faced with a massive task in overhauling air safety regulation in Australia. He has come in for some fierce criticism too. But one thing that will now be clear to all airlines in Australia from this episode is that unless there is strict compliance with the safety rules, airlines won’t just get threatened with show cause notices, but be served with them, and that the rules and processes will be enforced.
PS Jetstar and Virgin Australia are offering cheap Tiger ‘rescue’ fares to stranded passengers but these can only be booked and paid at the airport on production of your Tiger booking document and subject to space being available on alternative flights