Jetstar is under the Australian Transport Safety Bureau spotlight for allegedly taking off from Launceston Airport for Sydney last Wednesday night in total darkness.

The jet which could have carried up to 180 passengers on board was reported as taking off without runway lights.

It is illegal and seriously unsafe for aircraft to take off in darkness.

Runway lights define the sides, start and finish of the strip as well as the taxiway exits, providing pilots with critical information in the event of an aborted takeoff or an urgent return to an airport because of an engine failure, fire on board or other emergency.

It is a pilot’s responsibility to ensure the lighting is on.

Two Qantas pilots who were alleged to have taken off from Launceston without activating the runway lights on 23 October 2001 in a 737 with 77 passengers on board were committed for trial on 4 November 2005 on charges brought under the Civil Aviation Act.

These charges, that they operated an aircraft recklessly and in a manner endangering life, carry a penalty of up to five years jail if proven.

However both pilots, one of whom has since retired, recently applied for a stay of proceedings in the drawn out case, which has cost Qantas large sums to defend, and which is the first ever criminal prosecution of a major Australian airline for breaches of the air safety regulations.

A decision on that application is not expected until late next month.

Now it seems the CDPP which is prosecuting that case may have to decide on similar action against Jetstar, depending on any recommendation from CASA the air safety regulator, and the technical investigation announced this morning by the ATSB.

A spokesman for Jetstar says “We have a proactive safety culture … (and) … we are providing information to the ATSB. We had an experienced technical crew on board that flight. We do not intend to run a commentary on this until the matter is investigated.”

Peter Fray

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