The independent air safety investigator, the ATSB, has released a report which might encourage touchy/feely headlines about how air safety standards are not at risk in Australia. It concludes:

The study of IRM [immediately reportable matters] in Australian RPT [regular public transport] operations did not identify any serious or sustained reduction in aviation safety.

Here is some additional information that might suggest that any inquisitive air traveller or new government ought not feel reassured by this five year analysis of the statistics.

Qantas recently pumped nitrogen into the emergency oxygen tanks of a Boeing 747 at Melbourne Airport.

This gravely serious matter was spin doctored in the media by the ATSB as a “one off event.” Well, it only had to result in pilots once donning their emergency oxygen masks in a fume or smoke filled cockpit and breathing pressurised nitrogen to kill with total certainty everyone on board.

Just as was the case in a recently launched ATSB investigation into an emergency landing by a Qantas 767 at Melbourne Airport on 23 November, after the crew detected fumes in the cockpit.

Had those pilots breathed pressurised nitrogen they would have passed out, and somewhere just north of Melbourne everyone on board would have died. But incredibly, the ATSB is not investigating the Qantas nitrogen incident. This is a scandal. The deadly cylinders could have been in the 767!

In the US and Europe Qantas would be prosecuted for grave dereliction of duty and infringement of safety rules. But Qantas is untouchable in Australia. This culture of the “light handed” administration of air safety promoted by the previous government is racing from farce toward tragedy unless something is done about it immediately.

In the nitrogen incident in Melbourne Qantas maintenance staff were so well trained and supervised that they changed the fittings on the nitrogen trolley which they somehow believed was loaded with oxygen, in order to force the gas into the wrong tanks, rather than follow rigorous safety methodology such as asking “why?”

How could this happen? Aren’t their signs? Can’t people read?

This is about as close as it gets and makes the allegations about sub-standard maintenance of Qantas jets abroad beg the question as to how dangerous are its practices in this country?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey