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Politics

Nov 27, 2007

One engine gone, REX flies on to Sydney

The first acid test of the next Minister for Transport could involve REX and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writes Ben Sandilands.

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Elton John’s pilot’s unfamiliarity with Brisbane Airport aside (see today’s “Tips and rumours”), the first acid test of the next Minister for Transport could involve REX and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Last Thursday a REX turbo-prop flight between Wagga Wagga and Sydney made most of the trip lower and slower than the passengers on board expected when its right hand engine was shut down after takeoff.

According to our sources, the pilots believed that a warning light that came on as they began the 75 minutes flight was at fault instead of the engine, and having confirmed that the 34 seat SAAB 340 was still capable of “positive climb”, pressed on to Sydney with only the left hand engine for power.

Their suspicions were confirmed in Sydney, but the decision to fly on with an engine shut down rather than return to Wagga Wagga, or divert to Canberra, or Albury or Griffith is to put it mildly, controversial.

A jet pilot for a major Australian carrier said, “If I did this in a 737 from anywhere to Sydney I’d expected to be suspended upon landing.”

Even more surprising given its recent vigilance, is the ATSB’s decision not to investigate the incident.

Twin-engined aircraft are certified to fly on one engine, whether deliberately shut down or not, only as far as the next suitable airport, which may include the one the flight departed from.

The REX flight crossed elevated terrain en route to Sydney. In the event of the other engine experiencing a problem, its pilots would have been faced with the high work load procedures for attempting to re-start one or both of them in a shortened period of time, confined between a lower cruise altitude and higher ground.

Among the questions the new minister might find on his desk is whether or not “anything goes” in airline operations has gone too far.

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