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flying taxis

Aug 16, 2017

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Uber’s uncomplicated view of Elevate in action

It seems that Uber failed to copy air safety regulator CASA into its latest headline grabbing foray when it targeted Australian media with claims that it could have an ultimately pilotless flying ride service operating in traffic congested capital cities by 2023.

There is no evidence of any formal or even detailed but informal approach being made by the ride hailing service to CASA to back up the claims made yesterday that an urban air network could crack surface transport gridlock in cities like Sydney or Melbourne in a mere five years.

This is what Uber needs from the aviation safety regulator for its ‘Elevate’ concept to work legally in this country.

It has to have pilots (whether on board, or in a control centre) who are licensed to fly an aircraft of a capacity and design that has in fact yet to be built, tested and certified as safe.

Those pilots, or eventually, automated systems, have to be able to prevent a crash at any stage of a flight due to a loss of power from such causes as an engine failure, or upset in turbulence, or sudden change in wind or weather conditions.

There has to be a demonstrated and proven emergency evacuation procedure in place in the event of a survivable hard or aborted landing on a designated landing place or unplanned set down on a beach, road, park, or playground.

This would involve features incorporated in the Elevate flying vehicle, which is yet to be designed, built, tested and certified.

There must be an approved integration of Elevate movements in any controlled air space used by other aircraft, and compatible with the over arching needs of police and emergency services flights.

The list could go on. It is in some respects a similar list to the requirements for the safe mixing of goods or freight trains with passenger train services on shared tracks, but rendered more serious and complicated by speed and altitude and the need to fly over buildings and other structures.

Just as taxis and ordinary vehicles need to meet seat and collision safety standards, aircraft require passenger fittings capable of withstanding a range of forces, and exposure to fire.

But all at a harder to achieve standard, given the characteristics of a flying passenger vehicle.

The PR out of Uber on Elevate yesterday inferred that making the flying vehicle work outside the US might be easier from an administrative and regulatory perspective than grappling with the the bureaucracy of America’s FAA.

If this is the case, it is a seriously misinformed position to take, as the FAA, and its European counterpart, actually set the aerial vehicle certification standards for the world, and without their prior approval, nothing that an aerospace supplier might produce for Uber for a stand alone jurisdiction such as Dubai, would  be marketable, or insurable, on a global scale.

seating

Aug 2, 2017

5 comments

Add 195 adults more than 180 cms tall, and weighing over 100kgs and set fire to this jet

Like a knife taken to a clam shell, pressure is being applied to America’s FAA to unequivocally show that the twin trends to smaller seats but larger passengers are not compromising safety standards that apply to the evacuation of burning or sinking airliners.

Common sense says that safety is likely to be compromised. Commercial interest for airlines, and their at times captive safety regulators says this is a proposition that is not only outrageously true, but one that needs to be stomped upon as hard as possible.

To understand how this issue has burst into flames once again, and might see the fire or contagion spread even as far as the generally cosy relationship between major carriers and CASA try these two reports for the US in recent days.

Runway Girl Network has been beavering away at the issue for a long time. The question that leaps from this updated post from RGN is whether the FAA or Federal Aviation Administration has been trying to fob reporters off with vague and misleading statements.

This report can be usefully followed by today’s new story in Aviation Transport World or ATW which includes the following steaming horse sh*t from the lobby group Airlines for America.

An A4A spokesperson told ATW: “The FAA has affirmed that all US carriers meet or exceed federal safety standards and we continue to believe that there is no need for government to interfere with the market-driven solutions that are delivering a better, safer and more comfortable flight experience for everyone who takes to the skies.

The offensive section is italicised. The ruthless confiscation of passenger amenity by US carriers is abundantly apparent to anyone who flies in America, and this sort of corporate lying is totally unacceptable.

The ATW article serves as a reminder that when it comes to evacuation safety standards in airliners everything depends on the continued relevance of the original certification tests.

It is far too convenient for plane makers and regulators to accept formulas for extrapolating from original tests to produce favourable declarations about denser or tighter seating arrangements.

It is obvious that people are getting larger while seats get smaller, and that these factors are coming together to make it less likely to escape from a burning jet.

It is very convenient for airlines and plane makers to point to a favourable extrapolation to ‘prove’ that a single aisle jet that once was operated with only 144 seats is just as safe in the event of an emergency evacuation as one with 180 or even 195 seats, which means cost metrics look better because those expenses are divided by a higher number of passengers.

But at its heart, this is also a very dangerous approach to passenger safety in an emergency. This is an issue that is even more critical than airlines shrinking toilets to dimensions in which passengers may not be able to attend to the basics of good hygiene.

air safety

Jun 26, 2017

5 comments

An AirAsia X A330-300

No-one asked the critical question yesterday about the AirAsia X flight that returned to Perth after about 90 minutes of flight with a severely disabled engine that vibrated like a malfunctioning washing machine.

Why didn’t this jet land immediately at Learmonth (near Exmouth)  in compliance with the internationally accepted safety rule that requires a twin engine airliner to land at the first available suitably equipped airport if one engine fails or is shut down?

The AirAsia X flight to Kuala Lumpur, an A330-300 with 359 people on board, was about 370 kms from the fully equipped alternative airfield when one of its engines ingested a fractured fan blade according to the Aviation Herald.

Yet instead of heading directly to Learmonth, the big wide body twin airliner was turned around and flown for around 720 kilometres back to Perth, during which time maritime rescue services were put on alert for a possible ditching in the sea north of the city.

AirAsia X, the Australian safety regulator CASA, and the Australian air safety investigator the ATSB, all have some very serious matters to consider. And the joke media that passes for news reporting in this country needs to hire reporters smart enough to take a look at the maps and look up the rules that apply to airliners that suffer in flight engine failures.

battery fires

May 19, 2017

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BBC illustration of the risks of the Trump requirement of under floor carriage of pax devices

Subtlety may not rate highly in the Trump White house, but it seems it is trying to back away from triggering global bans on privately owned laptops and tablet devices in the hands of passengers in the cabins of airliners flying into the US.

For example, yesterday AusBT highlighted this encouraging story by the BBC, which coincidentally dropped any official reference to apparent lying by President Trump about specific threats that ISIS was planning dastardly deeds with miniature passenger carried electronic devices carrying small quantities of explosives.

That desirable analysis which might hopefully prove correct has however been contradicted by more recent US reports from Washington DC including from the generally speaking somewhat less accurate CNBC website.

Who are we to believe? The consistent clues in both reports that a global ban might be averted by an outbreak of common sense in the Trump administration start with a studied lack of urgency that has overtaken the earlier emphasis on strong intelligence concerning an attack using devices on selected ME carrier flights that somehow avoided acknowledging the existence of connections that would bypass such bans that occur at many dozens of airport/airline combinations between the states said to be the source of the now non-existent threat and the US.

The ‘genius’ at play in the Trump initiative was that it risked the lives of entire jet loads of passengers should one of those devices spontaneously combust and explode in a hard to reach checked luggage hold rather than in a cabin where there is a proven ability for trained flight attendants to quench such occurrences without delay.

The next clue comes from the narrative the US and EU officials are exploring (in a form of words if nothing else) alternative ‘enhancements’ to their current commonly aligned yet sometimes differently applied anti-terrorism measures.

Provided those enhancements have nothing in common with routine improvements poorly prepared IT departments inflict on Australians who rely in daily life on internet banking or publishing systems this has to be encouraging.

In fact there is ‘no reference’ to Australian flights to the US being affected in any of the US reports of recent weeks.

The lucky country may just fly under the radar of politically driven hysterics once more (but we cannot be so lucky forever.)

lithium-ion fires

May 12, 2017

5 comments

A UPS jet severely damaged by an uncontrolled fire despite its onboard control systems

It’s been confirmed that US authorities are in talks with numerous airlines and their respective aviation agencies about a far reaching expansion of current bans on passengers on selected Middle East carriers carrying their own laptops, tablets or other electronic devices in the cabins of flights to American cities.

The potential implications for deterring or inconveniencing Australians flying into US cities are obvious, although at this hour, no official announcements of such additional restrictions have been made.

This report by Bloomberg is typical of those appearing in foreign media overnight.

While the report is focused on US-Europe flights, there are indications such bans will become global, given the ease with which terrorist plots based on the use of very small personal electronic devices could be mounted via connections from Asia or Latin America.

The problem for safety regulators like Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority is that such a ban is totally contrary to the stance that it and similar national aviation regulators, including the FAA in the US (pre-Trump) had taken in banning such lithium-ion battery powered devices from being placed in checked and under floor baggage.

The fundamental issue, explained in recent years and in great detail by carriers like Qantas and Singapore Airlines, is that the proven risks of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in personal and industrial devices catching fire are best dealt with by trained cabin crew rather than cargo-hold fire suppression systems.

Uncontrolled lithium ion battery fires have been implicated in serious incidents and fatal crashes involving freighters.

The risks of the Trump administration bans are discussed factually in this Consumer Reports article.

When the initial and very selective US bans were announced earlier this year the UK followed suit in a highly conditional manner, in effect leaving all of the main ME carriers, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, exempt from the restrictions into UK cities, where of course, immediate connections to American airports could be made on dozens of unbanned airlines.

At a political level, the challenge for safety authorities like CASA and the FAA, is whether or not safety first policies should be overridden by ignorance and cussedness. Do ‘we’ diminish the safety of our air travellers to satisfy the whims of stupid people?

air safety

Mar 20, 2017

5 comments

The propeller-less REX flight after landing at Sydney

The possibility that the REX incident involving a lost propeller from a SAAB 340 turboprop approaching Sydney last Friday was caused by a rare manufacturing fault has firmed following the finding of a US investigative report concerning a similarly non-fatal incident in America in 1991.

That NTSB report was uncovered by Simon Hradecky, the author of the Aviation Herald air accident website.

The parallels between the US findings and the known details concerning the shedding of a propeller from the REX flight are striking, although it is far from confirmed that they do in fact explain that incident.

The NTSB summary is all in upper case.

An earlier post on this topic (for which the comments have been preserved) contained some incorrect information published in good faith.

To be blunt, this reporter is unhappy with this situation, particularly given some of the sources.

It has now been established that the flight last Friday from Albury to Sydney was well past Canberra Airport when the pilots shut down the right hand engine and feathered its propeller, shortly before it separated and fell away, fortunately missing any control critical surface of the SAAB 340, which could have caused an crash likely to kill all 16 people on board.

That propeller hasn’t been found. My apologies to REX and their pilots for doubting the judgments that led to a continuation of the flight when it was incorrectly described as having first encountered engine problems near Canberra.

The ATSB inquiry is in its early days. The close up photos of the break point between the missing propeller and the engine appear to indicate some sort of structural failure induced by stresses that may or may not have been affecting the assemblage even prior to the vibrations that caused it to be shut down while near Canberra. Whether the causes include structural as well as maintenance related factors remains to be determined.

air crashes

Feb 22, 2017

5 comments

This 3 year old ABC TV graphic is the best done of the moment Pel-Air went down

The much delayed second final investigative report by the ATSB on the Pel-Air medi-vac  flight’s ditching near Norfolk Island in 2009 is now expected to land next month.

The air crash investigator has posted this note on its Pel-Air pages:

During the normal internal investigation review process, the investigation team identified the need to obtain additional information from some organisations in order to clarify various matters. In addition, significant time was allocated to refining analyses of flight recorder data and the aircraft’s fuel status during the accident flight. These activities have delayed the finalisation of the draft report.

It is now expected that the draft report will be provided to the Commission for their consideration and approval in March 2017.

The ATSB’s next update will advise when the draft is released to directly involved parties.

Thanks to reader Jaeger for picking this up.

air crashes

Feb 22, 2017

5 comments

The enormity of the task hits home at DFO after the flames are put out.

Updated *

The Crikey Insider subscriber bulletin just out looks at the stupidity of land use and airport safety policy settings that have undermined public safety near Melbourne’s twin airports in the aftermath of yesterday’s DFO Essendon shopping centre crash of a high performance twin engined turboprop aircraft.

Fellow Crikey writer Alan Davies also takes a forensic look at the Essendon airport land use issues in The Urbanist.

And at the crash site ATSB investigators continue to examine the shattered and badly burned wreckage and hope to find the cockpit voice recorder which was a mandatory equipment requirement of the Raytheon B200 that had barely become airborne with the pilot and four US golfers bound for King Island when disaster struck, killing them all.

There is a risk that despite the design of the CVR that it may have been destroyed or damaged beyond usefulness by the intense fire that took hold after impact.

* Thursday February 23 The CVR has now been found and is being sent to Canberra to be examined and if possible, downloaded.

police operation

Jan 26, 2017

5 comments

Hoch Air website today features a private hotline

CASA has given information to the Townsville Bulletin about the rogue bush pilot Josh Hoch which confirms its utter contempt for the safety of the flying public and its inability to effectively regulate air safety in Australia.

A Queensland police investigation has this week led to Hoch being charged on 342 counts concerning 14 alleged offences involving among other matters the claimed sabotaging of aircraft flown by rival general aviation or small regional operations out of Mt Isa airport.

Two of the aircraft Hoch allegedly tampered with by putting glass beads into their oil systems had crash landed without loss of life.

Three aircraft are alleged to have been interfered with, risking potential loss of life, on four separate occasions by Hoch in 2016 alone.

Hoch has also been reportedly charged over several alleged cases of insurance fraud involving aircraft.

However in the Townsville Bulletin story, a CASA spokesperson confirms that the safety regulator knew about claims about Hoch’s activities since 2013, and had worked closely with the police investigation since last October.

What happened in relation to Hoch’s activities between 2013, or possibly ever further back, and a very large police operation toward the end of last year, has yet to be laid out for public scrutiny.

But Plane Talking has a copy of a CASA document showing that Hoch and his company didn’t receive a charter approval and air operator certificate until December 8 last year, by which time the safety regulator on its own admission had participated in the police inquiries for two months.

If as this implies Hoch’s operations were unlicensed and unapproved by CASA for all or part of the time they were taking place up until December 8 last year the safety regulator is in obvious and quite possibly criminally negligent breaches of a number of acts.

How CASA could claim to have conducted a satisfactory audit of Hoch’s operations given the brief published by Queensland police and extensively reported in the Townsville Bulletin is a vitally important question.

CASA is on its record an organisation totally indifferent to the blood on its hands from recent blatant failures to carry out it duties. It doesn’t recognise its guilt or its incompetence, and it has made fools of the aviation ministers responsible for its activities for at least as far back as the Seaview disaster of 1994.

The safety regulator also knew of the lethal potential of the operation and principal operative of Transair long before it flew a small turboprop into a hillside when attempting to land at Lockhart River in 2005, killing all 15 people on board.

CASA failed to act on the unfavourable results of an audit of the operations of the Pel-Air fleet of Westwind corporate jets before one of them ditched in stormy seas off Norfolk Island in 2009. It subsequently attempted to suppress that audit with the co-operation of the ATSB, the accident investigator, but was found out by a highly critical all party Senate committee hearing into what remains an unfinished saga. The ATSB was forced to withdraw its first accident report into the Pel-Air crash, which was a shamefully inadequate investigation, and its new inquiry, which was supposed to report more than a year ago, is understood to have run into a number of ‘difficulties’.

The actions of CASA in relation to a pilot who may have been unlicensed for the purposes of his operations for a prolonged period of activity during which police allege he could have killed the occupants of planes which he had sabotaged require very close scrutiny by the Minister for Infrastructure, Darren Chester.

Not scrutiny passed off to his discredited civil servants who have apparently talked nonsense to him since he took up the portfolio last year.  Real scrutiny, by the Minister, of the performance of what many see as a rogue organisation that has a culture of tolerating known unsafe operations.

Will the Hoch scandal be a turning point in the restoration of effective air safety regulation in Australia, or is it just another ‘nothing-to-see-here-media-beatup’ along a pathway to future catastrophe?

police operation

Jan 25, 2017

5 comments

Updated

There are a host of serious but as yet unanswered questions arising from a police operation against an alleged rogue bush pilot in Queensland.

Plane Talking wasn’t in court to hear any of the matters reported in great depth, and with extensive comments from the investigating police, and with a photo of the accused pilot, in the Courier-Mail today.

The report is currently outside the paywall on Google.

What Plane Talking can add to the published information is that the pilot alleged to have flown VIPS and politicians while unlicensed, and to have caused rivals to crash land their aircraft because he sabotaged them with contaminated fuel, did not have his company’s charter and aerial work AOC issued by CASA until last December 8.

It was earlier reported that these approvals were ‘renewed’. This was incorrect. The inference from the CASA records and the police commentary on the case is that CASA has been totally unaware of, or negligent in failing to act, on this pilot and his operation running for perhaps three years as an unregulated and thus unlawful operation.

CASA hasn’t yet responded to questions about the status of the pilot and his operation, and whether or not it even became aware of these activities before the police operation began.

These are very serious questions as to the competency of CASA. There may be an explanation for the situation outlined by the police that in some way exonerates CASA, but CASA’s inability to respond to even the most basic of inquiries, or take some sort of responsibility for what seems like a potentially very serious threat to public safety, is itself a cause for concern.

Is there an explanation for what the police have outlined? Were the police wrong? Has CASA been right up there on top of the issues, beavering away to protect the public with the superb success it demonstrated in the Lockhart River catastrophe of 2005? Does CASA actually give a flying stuff? Or are we just going to get more of the smug crap that our safety regulator dishes out to the public and ministers alike?

If as the police claim, they ensured that operations at Mt Isa airport were rendered safe from the actions of this pilot throughout their investigations, how could that possibly have occurred without the knowledge and co-operation of CASA?

Did CASA grant these approvals in ignorance of the police inquiries, or with full knowledge of the allegations that have led to the pilot concerned being charged on 342 counts concerning 14 alleged offences.

Were any of those offences brought under the provisions of CASA regulations?

To quote from the Courier-Mail report:

Detective Inspector Chris Hodgman said it was only by sheer luck that no one had died when one of the allegedly sabotaged planes took to the sky.

“We are lucky over a number of years that an alleged rogue operator like this wasn’t responsible for a disaster,” Insp Hodgman said.

“Two engine failures and the forced landing of the aircraft has happened — the pilots … were lucky to walk away.”

Insp Hodgman said safety measures were put in place as soon as police became aware of the alleged offending.

The Courier-Mail report also says:

Detectives working under Operation Oscar-Demotic allegedly uncovered evidence of fraud, tampering with aircraft, dangerous operation of aircraft and numerous aircraft safety breaches.

Police will allege they became aware of the defendant’s alleged offending in October last year when another pilot reported damage to his plane for the second time that year.

It is understood detectives are investigating four such claims of tampering on three planes in 2016 alone.

It will be alleged each case was the same, with a contaminant poured into the fuel tanks of the aircraft, under the cover of darkness at Mount Isa Airport.

When the engines fired, the contaminant caused “catastrophic” damage to the aircraft, grounding the planes for months, it is alleged.

The defendant has also been charged with insurance fraud relating to the alleged staged crash landing of two planes in 2014 and 2015.

It is difficult to reconcile CASA’s issuing approvals  of the pilot’s company’s operations approvals with the details reported by the Courier-Mail.

Updated The Minister responsible for aviation, Darren Chester, has been out of range much of the day but sent this comment early this evening.

As Minister, I am a regular user of general aviation flights and I am constantly impressed by the professionalism and expertise of our pilots and their dedication to safety.
I won’t comment on the specifics of this matter given there is an ongoing investigation underway.

air safety

Oct 15, 2016

5 comments

If it can do this to a Jeep on the ground, imagine what it can do to a jet at 40,000 feet
If it can do this to a Jeep on the ground, imagine what it can do to a jet at 40,000 feet

There are some unresolved issues concerning the total prohibition of the carriage of Samsung’s dangerous (and finally discontinued) Galaxy Note 7 mobile device, but Qantas and Virgin Australia have been quick to conform to the US ban in relation to flights by its airlines.

This is the Qantas statement:

Qantas and Jetstar customers are advised that the carriage of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices on-board is prohibited on ALL FLIGHTS effective 12:01am (AEDT) Sunday 16 October 2016. This is due to concerns regarding potential fire risk from the device’s battery after a number of incidents worldwide and follows a ban put in place by regulators overseas. The ban applies to devices being carried onto the aircraft, in carry-on baggage as well as check-in luggage. Other Samsung devices are not affected.

Note: this is updated advice from the previous Qantas Group policy, which allowed carriage of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 provided it was turned off. This restriction has now been broadened to a total ban.

Virgin Australia, and its low cost brand Tigerair Australia, have posted prominent travel alerts, and is like Qantas and Jetstar, are making sure passengers are well aware of the changed situation as they arrive at terminals or make on-line booklings. No such official advice has been posted as yet by Australia’s totally responsive on-the-ball safety regulator CASA, but we do know they care deeply, always think about the public first, and will eventually fix what must be an unfortunate oversight.

There are however a few other unresolved matters. It is unclear what penalties if any might be applied by any Australian carrier against a passenger that decided to pack a switched off Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in his or her checked luggage, despite all the already extensive pleadings not to do so by most airlines in the world including Qantas and Virgin Australia even before this total prohibition on carriage.

It is unclear what would happen if the normal security screening at most Australia airports of even modest size detected a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on terms of penalties, even though the phone would be confiscated.

In general terms Australia’s airlines and its safety and security authorities rely on people being informed, considerate and smart when asked to comply with sensible safety precautions. But this is a risk where enforcement penalties might be the only way to cut through to the stupid or selfish or delusional traveller. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 can explode as well as just ignite and fiercely burn. It has the clearest of potential to destroy an airliner in flight, the more so if the device is under the cabin floor in checked luggage and therefore unable to be put in a flame proof bag by cabin attendants before it sets fire to everything else around it if it is hidden in a suitcase.

Hence the urgency that is yet to reach CASA, although be patient, it is surely on its way.

air crashes

Oct 14, 2016

5 comments

The wreckage of the Pel-Air jet which the ATSB originally refused to recover
The wreckage of the Pel-Air jet which the ATSB originally refused to recover

The ATSB has updated the status of its re-opened inquiry into the Pel-Air ditching of an air ambulance flight near Norfolk Island almost seven years ago.

It says it is now “in a position to finalise a draft report which is expected to be released to directly involved parties by the end of the year.  Subject to comments made during the draft report review process, the final report should be released publicly in the first part of 2017.”

This whole sorry saga has become as much about the honesty and diligence of Australia’s air safety investigator, the ATSB, as well as its safety regulator CASA as it has about a plane crash.

In December 2014 the ATSB was directed to withdraw and re-open its original and much criticised report into the ditching following some very serious shortcomings that were identified by an independent peer review by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

It took a Senate inquiry to establish that the original ATSB inquiry ignored a suppressed internal CASA report that found the accident could have been avoided had the safety regulator done its job in relation to the oversight of Pel-Air’s operations of the small Westwind corporate jet that it used for medical flights.

The ditched Pel-Air flight involved a medical transfer from Apia to Melbourne which found itself unable to land in very poor weather conditions for its intended refueling stop at Norfolk Island with six people on board. The jet had insufficient fuel on board to to divert to an alternative airport. It was ditched in the sea adjacent to the island before its fuel would have run out and deprived the pilots of full control of the Westwind.

The evidence given by the then chief commissioner of the ATSB, Martin Dolan, to a Senate committee inquiring into its conduct of the original safety investigation was severely criticised in its report.

The Senate disclosures led to widespread concerns in the aviation industry that two government agencies, CASA and the ATSB had conspired to suppress evidence that the regulator had failed in its duty and that the accident report that was subsequently withdrawn had in effect framed the captain of the Pel-Air flight.

Irrespective of the fierce arguments that the original ATSB report gave rise to, there are few precedents for a national air safety regulator to be so totally discredited for its handling of an air crash inquiry as to have to withdraw its original report and do the job again, properly.

Even though the Pel-Air crash occurred in 2009, the failed regulatory reform process in CASA has not yet fully addressed and reformed the claimed inadequacy of the original rules that applied to oceanic medical flights on the night it crashed, leading to an against-all-odds search by a Norfolk Island fishing boat which rescued all six people who had been onboard the ditched jet.

The ATSB which had resolutely refused to recover the the Westwind’s flight recorder finally retrieved it and some other wreckage from the sea bed last year, after it was ordered to do a new investigation.

(The media was left in no doubt that the ATSB was directed to carry out the new inquiry, even though the current posting on its web site makes it sound like it acted on its own initiative.)

The surviving parties in this crash will now be given a period of time in which to review the draft report and have any comments or responses they may make taken into account before the final document is published publicly next year.

air safety

Aug 25, 2016

5 comments

Mark Skidmore in his RAAF days, photo courtesy Australian Aviation
Mark Skidmore in his RAAF days, photo Australian Aviation

Retired RAAF Air Vice-Marshal Mark Skidmore has suddenly resigned from the hot seat at CASA as its director of air safety after less than two years in the role.

This statement has just been posted by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority:

The Chairman of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Mr Jeff Boyd, today announced the resignation of the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Aviation Safety Mr Mark Skidmore AM.
 
Mr Skidmore joined CASA in January 2015 and has led the transformation of the safety authority in line with the government’s response to the Aviation Safety Regulatory Review (ASRR).
 
Since his appointment CASA has undergone a period of significant change with a major restructure of the organisation, the appointment of a new executive leadership team and a renewed focus on stakeholder engagement and collaboration to deliver aviation safety outcomes.
 
Mr Boyd and the Board thanked Mr Skidmore for his contribution to CASA and the Australian aviation industry.
 
“Mark has made an enormous and valued contribution to CASA and to aviation safety in this country’ Mr Boyd said.
 
‘This has included a number of significant improvements including restructuring the organisation, the development and implementation of CASA’s new regulatory philosophy and the implementation of just culture throughout the organisation. This has contributed positively to the way aviation regulations are developed and implemented in consultation with the aviation industry”.
 
Mr Skidmore cited personal reasons for his decision including wanting to explore a number of new opportunities.
 
“I have decided the time is right for me to make this move. I came on board at CASA to lead the organisation through a period of significant and difficult change and I am very proud of what we have achieved through the transformation program. We have been able to reshape the way CASA operates and delivers its services in a positive way.’ Mr Skidmore said.
 
‘It is an appropriate time for me to hand over the leadership as CASA moves through the next phase of its improvement program” he said.
 
Mr Skidmore will continue in the role until October so as to allow for a smooth leadership transition.
 
The Board is considering interim acting arrangements which will be announced shortly.  A thorough domestic and international recruitment process to select a new CEO will now commence. This process is expected to take six to nine months.

When he was appointed Plane Talking made some observations about his role and the consequences that might flow from an untimely departure, which might prove relevant to today’s not completely surprising development.

The reform process at CASA has to many stakeholders in the industry been incredibly slow and obtuse, and often fiercely resisted from within the organisation.

Mr Skidmore leaves at a time when over regulation has been argued quite strongly to have contributed to an implosion in general aviation activity in Australia, cutting away the bottom of the food chain when it comes to the development of a safe and experienced industry at precisely the time the major airlines are seeing serious shortages of skilled pilots and competent engineers put in doubt future growth.

It’s a problem not restricted to Australia either, but one that has become acutely apparent in this country in recent months.

Mr Skidmore leaves CASA in disarray over such festering issues as the substandard and now repudiated investigation of the Pel-Air crash of 2009 and critical issues with inappropriate or less than safe regulation involving the amount of fuel needed to be carried by Australian domestic airliners and astonishing lapses in its oversight of safety standards on matters like the Virgin Australia ATR scandal.

This involved a Virgin aircraft flying with dangerous damage to its tail for 13 sectors without the safety threat being recognised or remedied.

air safety

Aug 13, 2016

5 comments

Maintaining a complex composite wing on an A400M
Maintaining a complex composite wing on an A400M

Flight Safety Australia has warned that it is a shortage of engineers as well as pilots that will drag down air travel in the near future.

It’s skills shortage analysis is a reminder of the trite and shallow nonsense that says Australia can transition more to being a service economy that actually doesn’t make anything and simply import the necessary labour intensive skills on 457 visas.

By the time this crisis starts to cause ripples for the users and owners of airlines and air travel dependent businesses like airports, the usual sources of such skills will be experiencing, in fact are already starting to experience, their own shortages of the engineers needed to maintain airlines to the safety standards air travel currently meets.

It’s worth thinking about the Flight Safety Australia article from broader and longer term perspectives. At one level the consequences of botched and vindictive regulation by CASA, under the alleged oversight of a succession of lazy or poorly focused ministers is already destroying the general aviation sector.

It is true there are other factors also working against GA, but wilful neglect and to borrow a term from elsewhere, ’embuggerance’ is unforgivable. It’s also like a cancer that ultimately destroys the host that nurtures it.

Our ministers, in general, have no will or capacity to exercise the alleged superiority in our system of government of their executive branch over the unelected administrative branch.

And our investment settings are generally so short term or immediate that listed companies that talk about the longer term are generally punished on the ASX and downgraded, leading to a direct connection between stock prices and the sphincter muscles of their boards of directors.

Taking this broader perspective, the problems of the sectional interests of air transport illustrate issues that undermine and seriously threaten the longer term interests of ‘us’ and our children and their children with selfish short term preoccupations.

air safety

Jul 29, 2016

5 comments

A Jetstar A320 similar to the one involved in the Gold Coast incident
A Jetstar A320 similar to the one involved in the Gold Coast incident

Perspective

If Australia had an ATSB air crash investigator with the resources and courage to promptly deal with pressing incidents that exposed the public to severe dangers, our skies would be much safer.

The most recent example is reported in this Sydney Morning Herald account of an arriving Jetstar A320 and a departing AirAsia X A330 coming within 152 metres of each other close to the Gold Coast airport on July 21.

That specified lack of separation could not be independently confirmed earlier today, but the triggering of traffic collision avoidance system or TCAS  resolution advisory warnings in both airliners with a combined count of more than 520 seats near a high profile Australian airport demands more than an ATSB estimate of an inquiry report being issued by July 2017.

The quotes from a Jetstar spokesman in the media report make the official notification from the ATSB look like part of its apparent policy of downplaying all incidents that could have ended in major loss of life.

Does the ATSB really expect that public interest to be served by not identifying, very early, whether the airliners were directed to fly towards each other in such a dangerous manner, or whether instructions were not followed by one of the aircraft?  Or indeed, if some additional unexpected factor contributed to the situation? These questions could and should be answered in an interim or preliminary report no later than 30 days after the occurrence of such an incident.

Delays in reports, and downplaying of their importance, have become characteristic of the ATSB for at least nine years, after it failed to pursue a situation where a REX turboprop was flown almost all the way from Wagga Wagga to Sydney on a single engine, with passengers onboard.

The Pel-Air crash of 2009 led to the issuing of a totally discredited and subsequently withdrawn report into the ditching near Norfolk Island of a corporate jet performing a medical flight. Despite scathing Senate Committee findings into that scandal, which involved evidence of the covering up of failed regulatory oversight by CASA, and a damning independent review of the ATSB by its Canadian counterpart, and a direction by Government to conduct a fresh inquiry, Pel-Air is still a crash without a final investigative report.

The ATSB attitude to the directions of government is something like waiting for hell to freeze over.

More recently the ATSB issued a Correcting the Record attack on a Sydney Morning Herald account of the failure of Virgin Australia to keep track of the safe operations of one of its turbo-prop ATRs. (Scroll down on the above link to find the offending entry.)

While the Sydney Morning Herald seems happy to hang the author of a totally fair and accurate report out to dry,  the ATSB response is unacceptable, and avoids the core issue in the article by Aubrey Martin. Like numerous posts in Plane Talking before, Mr Martin points out that an Australian registered turbo-prop, with 68 passenger seats, was allowed to fly 13 sectors over five days following damage to its tail, before Virgin Australia discovered that it was so badly bent it had to be grounded at Albury.

It was nothing but luck that stopped Virgin Australia killing dozens of passengers through a failure to ensure the safe operational conditions of part of its fleet. This failure of oversight by the carrier would have been reason to suspend the regional turbo-prop arm of the airline by CASA, and shouts for a need for urgent attention by the ATSB.

No such action has been taken, adding to legitimate concerns that Australia has second world standards when it comes to the public administration of air safety.

Seen from outside, the ATSB is under resourced. It is also more than three years since the ATSB began inquiring into the circumstances which caused a Qantas and a Virgin Australia 737 to land in dense fog at Mildura with very little remaining fuel reserves when both had originally intended to complete flights to Adelaide.

That set of incidents raised significant questions about the regulations concerning the fueling of domestic flights in this country. Yet despite a detailed interim report, the ATSB has yet to deal with this critical underlying issue in the Mildura fog emergency that overtook flights by Australia’s major domestic carriers and put hundreds of lives in peril.

The ATSB is there to make flying safer in Australia, not to bury or avoid matters that may embarrass the airlines and their regulator and air traffic services provider.

air safety

May 14, 2016

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A safely motionless Jetstar A320 at Melbourne Airport
A safely motionless Jetstar A320 at Melbourne Airport

Jetstar’s tail strike incident at Melbourne Airport this week puts another red flag over the Qantas subsidiary’s operations and the unwillingness to date of the supposed safety regulator CASA to ground or restrict its flights.

However the ATSB appears to have fast tracked its inquiry into an incident that imperiled the lives of those on the 180 seat passenger jet bound for Hobart, indicating a final report will be provided by this November.

Under previous direction the ATSB has botched and now delayed its attempts at a PelAir crash inquiry (2009) and proven incapable to date of dealing with an astonishing situation where Qantas and Virgin Australia 737s were forced to land in blinding fog with low fuel at Mildura in 2013, and an appalling screw up that caused serious undetected structural damage to a Virgin ATR turboprop in regional service in NSW in 2014.

The ATSB has abundant reasons from the recent operational history of Jetstar for its speedy reaction.

In October last year another Jetstar single aisle Airbus, this time a 215-220 seat A321 was dispatched from Melbourne Airport in such an unsafe loading balance condition for a flight to Perth that it struggled to become airborne.

The same month Jetstar dispatched an A32o from Brisbane for Melbourne a Jetstar A32o left Brisbane for Melbourne with 16 more passengers on board than advised, meaning the aircraft was about 1,328 kg heavier than the take-off weight used to calculate the take-off and landing data for the flight.

These two October 2015 incidents perforce demonstrated that Jetstar, an Australian licensed subsidiary of Qantas, had lost on two occasions the absolutely essential prerequisite of safe operations of knowing how jets were loaded and that the distribution of passenger numbers and below floor baggage or freight was within the approved safe limits that are found in the flight manuals of all jet airliners.

These incidents raised questions of safety culture in Jetstar that have not yet been answered by an ATSB inquiry, nor addressed by CASA, the gutless safety regulator that conducted a grandiose grounding of Singapore owned Tiger Airways in 2011 after it infringed safe minimum altitude requirements over the Leopold estate near Geelong during a night time go-around at Avalon Airport.

CASA was justified in grounding Tiger, but was it justified in treating Jetstar with comparative indifference over a series of equally disturbing incidents at Melbourne, Cairns and Singapore Airports in earlier years?

The response of CASA to persistently unsafe practices or attitudes by Tiger was to first ground the carrier, and then restrict the number of sectors it could fly each day until it acquired a safety culture and a respect for the regulations.

The safety culture of Jetstar ought to be in the dock of public opinion over the October 2015 incidents, and as the ATSB says in its notification of an investigation, the loading data for last Wednesday’s flight will be part of that inquiry.

maladministration

May 6, 2016

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Flying schools, threatened by CASA's maladministration
Flying schools, threatened by CASA’s maladministration

A general aviation industry driven to the brink of collapse by maladministration in CASA will rally at Tamworth Airport today to make last ditch representations for Federal Government intervention to save hundreds of small businesses from flying schools to third tier services vital for remote community air access.

Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester and CASA chair Jeff Boyd, will meet with the leaders and stakeholders in a GA sector on the edge of ruin.

These are desperate people, crushed by excessive regulatory and compliance costs that seem unique to Australia and devised by a bureaucracy that the industry argues keeps inventing news ways to drive them broke faster.

The rally will be conducted possibly only hours before the Coalition Government enters caretaker mode prior to a July 2 double dissolution election of the Senate and House of Reps.

The impotency of Government ministers to make policy changes during the incredibly long election period may add to the frustration of those with jobs and investments in aviation enterprises that are at risk.

Much of the claims being made by the GA sector may seem incomprehensible on their technical details to the mass of trunk route and secondary city flyers in Australia. But without GA the greater extent of the continent, covering small settlements and better known tourism resorts and lodges, will end up without affordable air access.

Thousands of jobs generated by businesses that support flying schools, private aircraft owners, and joy flight operations and community services by health and law enforcement bodies are at imminent risk.

The loss of GA activity would not only make Australia a dumber country through the loss of technical skills, but a vastly more difficult one to reach into in many locations.

That is why those of us who almost always fly in a jet airliner and seldom if ever experience flight using short rough bush strips stand to lose from the current crisis this rally is trying to avert.

If the Coalition can save small trucking operators from excessive regulation, it can surely do the same for grass roots aviation.

Much depends on GA cutting through to Government this afternoon.

drones

Apr 18, 2016

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