Damage at junction of vertical and horizontal tail sections of Virgin Australia ATR72

Where on earth is CASA as well as Virgin Australia and the Minister for Aviation in relation to the shocking update by the ATSB in the case of a damaged 68 passenger ATR72 turbo-prop that was allowed to fly 13 times in scheduled service after a turbulence event on a Sydney-Canberra flight in February?

The core elements of the ATSB report show that Virgin Australia’s engineering contractor and the airline failed to identify and understand serious damage done to this aircraft in the turbulence event.

The aircraft was then allowed to carry passengers for thirteen sectors in that state before an in-flight crisis five days later approaching Albury from Sydney where it was grounded after landing, and remains to those day, pending repairs if indeed it can be repaired.

These are scandalous disclosures.  No one in the general flying public in this country expects that a contract maintenance organisation could be so bad at its job that it failed to understand and identify the grave safety of flight issues apparent on the Virgin turbo-prop on 20 February.

It is after all, what the maintenance provider is paid by Virgin to do, rather than scratch their heads and release the aircraft back into service.

It’s Virgin’s inescapable legal obligation to ensure that all aircraft are safe before flying. It didn’t ensure the safety of these 13 flights. It’s CASA’s role to enforce and maintain a safe level of oversight on airline operations and ensure that those who carry out aircraft maintenance are competent and effective.

It’s the Minister’s responsibility, particularly as the leader of the Nationals, to make sure that rural and regional air services, including those that fly him and his colleagues to and from Canberra, are safe. It’s called Ministerial responsibility.

Blurry Sydney Airport tarmac video image of flight on arrival 20 February

How on earth did this situation arise with this aircraft, and what steps have been taken to ensure that whoever screwed up so badly, within Virgin, and within the contractor, never get to imperil the safety of flight in this country in this manner again?

This may seem harsh. But flight safety standards are by necessity harsh. The harsh reality is that 13 passenger loads were exposed to a broken aircraft, and that is intolerable. Read the ATSB document linked to above very carefully, as it contains inferences and disclosures that are very disturbing.

Virgin Australia statement:

The safety of our guests, crew and aircraft is our number one priority at Virgin Australia and we have strong protocols in place to ensure the safety of our operations is maintained to the highest standard.

While this is an isolated issue, we are working with the ATSB, the aircraft manufacturer and our maintenance provider to identify what has occurred. As the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for us to comment in any further detail at this stage.

Generally speaking, Plane Talking would rather responses to stories stand alone.

However the ‘protocols in place’ referred to didn’t work. If they didn’t work, they need to be made to work, because the fact that they didn’t work seriously compromised the safety of 13 Virgin Australia flights, and if anyone doubts that, damage to the control surfaces on the tail of an airliner, and damage that escapes detection, is a truly serious matter.

The term ‘isolated’ is perplexing. This was a failure that applied to the relationship and quality of service between an airline, a contractor, and its fleet of turbo-props. If you are a regional or Canberra flyer, how would you feel about the term ‘isolated’?

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