How did a Jetstar Airbus come to within 20 feet of the ground during an aborted landing at Melbourne airport? The airline’s explanation is a long way from adequate, and there has been no external inquiry.

Crikey reported yesterday (here and here) that an A320 made two attempts to land in fog at the end of a flight from Christchurch on July 21 before diverting to Avalon airport, which was fog free.

Such attempts and diversions are standard procedure for carriers faced with poor visibility or adverse weather. They happen all the time.

But what was abnormal about the Jetstar incident was that until yesterday, after it was revealed in an Aviation Business email newsletter, it had not become the subject of a thorough investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Comments by Jetstar that the jet had its undercarriage lowered at all times while it tried to land at Melbourne Airport are contradicted in a note from the airline seen by Crikey. According to the note the wheels were raised at one time, and further, that a ground proximity warning generated an audible warning in the cockpit as the jet climbed away from its first attempted landing.

Such warnings are normally generated when any aircraft is descending toward the ground, or strays over high objects that might be a risk to a flight.

The Jetstar note also claims there was a failure of the “automatic go-around system” to properly climb the jet away from its first attempted landing during which it continued to loose altitude until it was about 20 feet above the ground. Somehow the automatic go-around system which the pilots had overridden was still acting in conflict with their manual inputs.

These are very serious claims for a carrier that relies entirely on Airbus jets, and yet all investigations have been kept in-house. This claim is causing consternation for two reasons among some A320 pilots spoken to by Aviation Business.

One is that the company summary of events seems confused and vague. The other is that any failure of a major system in any jet airliner clearly demands the most urgent and thorough investigation, yet inexplicably, Jetstar was allowed to conduct an internal inquiry, an action completely at odds with the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to have such incidents examined.

Australia is obliged through its support for the International Civil Aviation Safety Organisation to examine incidents which may have a wider significance for the safety of a flight in a particular type of airliner. There are thousands of A320s in service world wide.

Are the safety agencies for which Mark Vaile is responsible so captured by the influence of the major carriers that they cannot see the urgency of a thorough investigation of a claimed system failure in an Airbus by an Australian airline? Or is this a case of a jet being badly flown in difficult conditions and — just by good luck — getting away with it?