There is much to anticipate from today’s launch of Airline Ratings.com but there are some important questions to ask as well.
Among them, why Air France and Jetstar have both received the highest order of safety rating, 7/7, placing them on the same level as Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand and about 141 of the 425 airlines rated by the site?
Air France came close to losing a Boeing 777 that was badly flown on approach to Paris CDG in 2011 and slaughtered all 228 people on board a fully functional A330-200 in 2009 which crashed out of control into the mid-Atlantic.
It is inconceivable for Air France to be rated safer than Lion Air of Indonesia, on 2 out of 7, when it made its far less violent and totally survived water landing just short of the runway at Denspasar earlier this year.
However my colleague and Editor-in-Chief of Airline Ratings Geoffrey Thomas this morning referred to relying in part on the European no-fly list of airlines banned in European air space.
That list has no credibility whatsoever if it excludes Air France, and looks increasingly politically or culturally motivated when on occasions it has also names airlines in Asia with neither the equipment nor traffic rights to fly to cities in Europe.
At this stage the logo buttons on the Airline Ratings do not expand to reveal exactly how each rating was determined, but this is only Day 1 of going live, and there are some really good things on the site, and no doubt the formulas used and apportioned for each judgement will in due course be shown, together with a history button showing revisions and reasons.
However turning to Australian carriers, there has surely to be an explanation as to why Jetstar would be given a 7/7 rating. There have been a series of serious incidents involving Jetstar since it took press reports including by this reporter in Crikey, to wake up the ATSB to the failure of Jetstar to report an incident in which one of its A320s was almost flown into the ground at Melbourne’s main airport in 2007 after the management of that airline improperly changed the approved flight manual in relation to missed approaches.
In another debacle in 2010, two Jetstar pilots at the controls of an A321 about to land at Singapore Airport on a flight from Darwin did not exchange a single word for more than two minutes, during which the jet dropped to less than 500 feet above the ground, while remaining incorrectly configured to land, during which the captain became distracted by incoming text messages to his mobile phone.
The captain told the junior pilot just to land the jet, the junior pilot took the initiative to perform a go around, and in post incident interviews both pilots told the ATSB they thought they had remained above 800 feet.
In fact the cockpit was full of a variety of audible and visible alarms telling them precisely where they were. They later flew the same jet back to Darwin. The details reported by the ATSB ought to tell the editors of Airline Ratings that Jetstar is not a 7/7 safe airline equal in such excellence as Qantas.
If however the editors rate REX Regional Express 5/7, why wouldn’t Jetstar be a 4 or maybe even a 3?
There are serious issues in the public administration of air safety in Australia, including the suppressing of vital but damning safety information by CASA during the ATSB investigation of the Pel-Air ditching near Norfolk Island in 2009.
Unquestioning acceptance of no fly lists, and statements by our safety regulators, can undermine the accuracy of the assessments made by this worthy website. If it looks like a recitation of PR driven messaging from the airlines and various safety agencies it will not be credible, although for some, it may seem comforting.