Fog continues to shroud the circumstances in which a Jetstar A320 narrowly missed hitting the ground during an aborted approach to Melbourne Airport on July 21.

An interim or preliminary report by the independent accident and incident investigation body, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, was expected early this month.

There is no indication as to when any report, whether interim or final will be made.

The incident raised some extremely important issues for travellers, and for the air safety regulator the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which originally declared it best left to an internal inquiry by Jetstar, even though it involved a flight from Christchurch making two attempts to land in fog before diverting to Avalon.

The airline claimed that the wheels were lowered when the jet sank to within twenty feet of the ground after the pilots first initiated a “go-around” at a height of 200 feet because of the poor visibility.

This was the first glaring discrepancy with safety of flight requirements that drew scrutiny of the incident. When a decision is made to abandon a landing approach the standard operating procedure is to apply maximum or “go-around” power and retract the undercarriage to minimise aerodynamic drag.

It was further claimed that as the jet sank toward the ground the crew interpreted computer generated aural altitude alerts as erroneous and that a further warning was made after the jet began to climb away in preparation for its second attempt at landing.

In flying jargon, the Jetstar flight was ‘seriously out of shape”. But why? CASA didn’t think it worth an independent inquiry. Jetstar later said it didn’t know how serious the incident was until it took a second look at the data, and retrained the captain.

The ATSB didn’t get the full dossier from Jetstar until after Aviation Business and Crikey started asking questions. Jetstar has also claimed that there was a failure of the automated go-around systems on board the A320, which is of much wider concern, because the A320 is the second most commonly used jet after the Boeing 737.

There is no reason to doubt that the ATSB won’t find out what really happened, although it doesn’t always describe serious cock-ups as bluntly as it did in relation to the Transair disaster in far northern Queensland in 2005.

What the ATSB can’t address, but the current or next Minister for Transport is obliged to deal with, is why CASA treated a very grave incident involving a major Australian airline as something best kept under wraps by an internal investigation, and whether or not the carrier is or was complying with every condition of its Air Operator Certificate.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW