Dark clouds of scandal and the neglect of Aboriginal community air services will be hanging over the Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes today as he begins his inquest into the deaths of all 15 people on board the Transair flight that crashed on approach to the Lockhart River strip on 7 May, 2005.

Will the coroner deal with widespread allegations that one of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority officials responsible for overseeing Transair had a relationship with the carrier’s management that may have compromised him?

Will the coroner require CASA to explain why its regulation and continuing oversight of Transair was so comprehensively inadequate?

Will the coroner discover why senior CASA management appears to be totally clueless about the neglect of flight standards in the bush?

Will the coroner cast any light on the inability of CASA to understand and act on its powers and obligations in relation to the safety of flight services to what are largely Aborginal and impoverished remote communities in far northern Queensland in particular,  if not Australia in general?

Will the coroner discover why Australia in relation to Transair failed to meet its obligations under the International Civil Aviation Organisation in terms of flight crew training issues and navigational standards?

Will the coroner find any link between Australia’s breaches of its ICAO treaty obligations in relation to remote community aviation and the deaths of the two pilots and 13 passengers?

Will the coroner compel CASA to explain why it never warns consumers that it has detected unsatisfactory or unsafe procedures by airlines in the course of carrying out its duties to regulate and enforce safety standards?

Will the coroner seek answers as to why the crew could not communicate directly with airstrip staff prior to arrival and ascertain whether the alternative approach from the sea was clear (as reported on the day) when the direct approach across a coastal range was obscured by clouds and torrential rain.

Will the coroner test claims that the pilot in command of the flight had a record of unprofessional conduct that was known to CASA and would not have been tolerated in the training and checking regimens of larger Australian airlines?

Will the coroner find out why it is permissible in Australia for shoddy standards to apply to bush flights when uniform standards of equal diligence and consistent navigational procedures apply to all scheduled airline activities in the developed world, including all of the US and Europe?

The coroner has the power to recommend criminal charges arising from his inquest, which sits for four days on Thursday Island this week and will resume later in the year in Brisbane.

Peter Fray

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