The CASA special investigation of Qantas could be seen as a rediscovery of its legal obligations to adequately monitor, audit and enforce compliance with safety regulations.

Or it could be seen as more spin, yet another attempt to soothe public concerns that the inability of Qantas to keep its fleet punctual and serviceable means this is linked to frequent breakdowns and serious in-flight incidents like the explosion that ripped open QF 30 on 25 July.

CASA spokesman, Peter Gibson, denies it is spin.

“We are doing our public duty,” he says.

Gibson has become a media fixture, routinely appearing before images of ruptured jets or frightened passengers assuring everyone that the airline is completely safe, even when he is announcing an investigation which could find otherwise.

Does the special investigation signal the disowning of departing CEO Bruce Byron’s public stance at the Safe Skies conference in Canberra nine months ago that CASA’s role is to encourage others (the airlines) to deliver safety outcomes for it?

Gibson says, “No. We aren’t disowning our emphasis on managerial responsibility in aviation.”

The CASA probe has been given a few worrying leads apart from the very serious issues involved in the power failure onboard QF 2 approaching Bangkok on 7 January and the explosion that seriously damaged QF 30 before it dropped in on Manila on 25 July.

The licensed mechanics and engineers association has served documents detailing alleged examples of incompetent or unsafe procedures in the maintenance and release for service of jets by Qantas managers during the recent prolonged overtime bans.

If CASA finds any missed or ignored airworthiness directives applying to a particular type of jet it would have little option but to order their grounding pending rectification.

It did this to Ansett, twice, in 2001. Earlier this year Southwest and American Airlines, the first and third largest airlines in the world measured by passengers boarded, rushed to ground more than 300 jets in total when they confessed maintenance irregularities to the FAA.

The reducing of spare parts and engineering support in Qantas to dysfunctional levels may have been good for the cost-cutting, bonus driven culture in the carrier, and for the numbers in the run up to the sale of the carrier to a private equity bid that failed. But the true price is now becoming apparent.

*Listen to Ben Sandilands discuss Qantas and CASA on ABC Radio Canberra this morning.

Peter Fray

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