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air safety

Feb 18, 2015

Pel-Air flight recorder to be recovered, if possible

Despite all the official cr*p spoken by the ATSB, CASA, and their discredited chief commissioner and former director of safety respectively, and the secretary of the Department of I

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Full fathom five, or more, the rear section of the ditched Pel-Air Westwind

Despite all the official cr*p spoken by the ATSB, CASA, and their discredited chief commissioner and former director of safety respectively, and the secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, and two successive ministers responsible for aviation, the Pel-Air flight recorder will be attempted to be recovered from the ditching location off Norfolk Island.

The re-opened inquiry into the accident, which seriously injured two people on a medical evacuation in a Westwind jet from Apia to Melbourne in November 2009 will also look at the operator’s oversight of those flights, as well as the regulatory oversight of the operations by CASA.

The ATSB has removed its much criticised final report into the crash from its website, and expects it could take up to 12 months for the re-opened inquiry to be completed.

The re-opening of this investigation is a crushing repudiation of the previous conduct of CASA and the ATSB in relation to this crash.

The ATSB statement on the removal of the existing final Pel-Air report and the re-opened investigation can be read here.

In context, it also coincides with the unexplained generosity of the owner of Pel-Air, REX, by way of political donations to the ALP and the Coalition in the later half of 2012, after the internal turmoil that was taking place in the ATSB over the sharp change of direction in its assessment of the safety issues involved in the ditching that was disclosed in the recent peer review by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada of its Australian counterpart’s handling of the investigation.

The fundamental premises of the final investigation process changed radically from those which the ATSB had identified earlier in its inquiries. The final report has been accussed of scapegoating the pilot while ignoring or discounting the issues of fatigue, lack of refuelling policy, poor pilot support, and defective or incomplete meteorological information, among others.

That attitude adjustment on the part of the ATSB under advice from CASA was the subject of lengthy examination by a Senate committee, which devoted an entire section of its final report into the ATSB’s final report into its lack of confidence in or respect for the testimony of the chief commissioner of the safety bureau, Martin Dolan.

The committee uncovered an internal CASA audit which revealed that Pel-Air had been in multiple breach of a range of safety requirements at the time of the crash in relation to its Westwind jet operations. That internal audit also found that had CASA discharged its duties of oversight over the operator, the accident might not have happened.

The internal document was suppressed by CASA and not made available to the ATSB, leading to a reference by the committee to the Federal Police as to whether or not the withholding of such information was a breach of the Transport Safety Investigation Act of 2003.  Apparently this was too confronting a reference for the Federal Police to handle, as no official outcome has been forthcoming.

Today’s announcement makes specific reference to taking into account the concerns of the Senate committee, and other parties, which is remarkable considering the manner in which Labor’s minister responsible for aviation, Anthony Albanese, and the current Coalition minister and deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, have brushed off the  concerns of the all party Senate committee.

It says “The re-opened investigation will review the evidence obtained during the original ATSB investigation, and the report of that investigation, in the light of any additional evidence and other relevant points raised in the TSB review and separate reviews by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee and through the Deputy Prime Minister’s Aviation Safety Regulation Review.”

The re-opened investigation raises additional questions, although it remains to be seen if the Government or Opposition has the intestinal fortitude to pursue all of them.

In terms of public expenditure, CASA is a very expensive federal authority. In relation to the oversight of air operators, the only conclusion that can be made from the Pel-Air fiasco is that it squandered millions of dollars failing to perform its most basic and important duties to the Australian public and the industry.

How the mess that is CASA and the ATSB today can be cleaned up, and genuine reform achieved, remains a questions that demands actual results, not more weasal words from both sides of politics.

Pel-Air could yet become the catalyst for this to happen.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “Pel-Air flight recorder to be recovered, if possible

  1. comet

    “Pel-Air flight recorder to be recovered, if possible.”

    If possible. That is, if someone hasn’t already dived down there and removed it.

    Considering there could be a finding of wrong-doing, persons who don’t want that information recovered would have every incentive to remove the flight data recorder.

    I can’t think of any other similarly bizarre situation where an FDR has been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for six years without being read, on an aircraft that lies in a known and easily recoverable location. It defies belief.

  2. Dan Dair

    As always,
    An honest outcome will depend upon the will existing to actually achieve that outcome…..
    Given the history of the two organisations & the fact that they’re answerable to a currently less-than-distinguished Government,
    I’m unconvinced that the necessary will is there.?

    Comets’ point about whether the FDR is still there is very well made.
    With all the resources at the Governments disposal, arranging a little under-the-radar ‘diving-trip’ would be relatively easy.
    It’s not, in this instance, like they had to arrange to have anyone killed to keep them quiet, is it.?

  3. Crocodile Chuck

    I’m with Comet.

    Its gone.

  4. derrida derider

    comet and Dan – that is complete crap. If you had any idea how closely money for travel is scrutinised in the public service you wouldn’t claim that “a little under-the-radar ‘diving-trip’” would be easy. Plus there’s the fact that the divers would have no incentive at all not to sell their story the same day to 60 Minutes, and undoubtedly would.

    Guys, it’s not that would-be conspiracy-makers don’t exist in the world; its just that a successful conspiracy takes great competence (and even then needs some dumb luck).

    And the whole point of Ben’s articles is that there has been great INcompetence. Honest, do you really think these clowns would be capable of getting away with this? With the scrutiny they’re getting (not to mention the scrutiny they should anticipate if the recorders were found to be missing), do you really think that even clowns would be so incredibly dumb as to try?

  5. Dan Dair

    derrida derider,

    I DO NOT purport to know more than you on this matter;

    “If you had any idea how closely money for travel is scrutinised in the public service”
    IF such a task ever happened, finding the money would, IMO, be the least of their problems.

    “the divers would have no incentive at all not to sell their story”
    That would probably depend upon whom you got to preform the task.?

    “do you really think these clowns would be capable of getting away with this?”
    Yes, they’ve got away without a proper investigation of it up until now, haven’t they.?

    “do you really think that even (these) clowns would be so incredibly dumb as to try?”
    Yes, because they don’t imagine they’ll get caught.?
    .
    .
    I’m not saying I know that it IS so,
    I am saying that if it turns out to be so, I’ll not be the least bit surprised.

  6. comet

    Looking at the photo, the Westwind’s fuselage appears rusty.

    I wonder if any authorities dived down there to remove the kerosene from its fuel tanks to protect the environment. Even though it was low on fuel when it crashed, the engines were still running at impact, so there must be many litres on board.

    To derrida: It would be a sad state of affairs if Australia’s aviation authorities didn’t retrieve the FDR because they couldn’t afford the travel costs to Norfolk Island. I don’t believe that’s the reason for the inaction.

    They haven’t retrieved it because they deliberately don’t want the data that’s on it.

  7. Caelum

    Referral to the AFP in 2013?

    “The internal document was suppressed by CASA and not made available to the ATSB, leading to a reference by the committee to the Federal Police as to whether or not the withholding of such information was a breach of the Transport Safety Investigation Act of 2003. Apparently this was too confronting a reference for the Federal Police to handle, as no official outcome has been forthcoming.”

    Why the delay? What is “too confronting” and proving so difficult for our AFP? Any word at all from the Senate, Committee or AFP? Can we not possibly expect some announcement by the AFP soon? Continuing questions over potential CASA illegal behaviour in relation to the original investigation will surely overshadow, if not undermine this this newly re-opened investigation particularly when this new ATSB team deal with CASA? What will CASA wilfully and deliberately supress or withhold from this re-opened investigation and others in the future?

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