The CASA special audit of Qantas has been completed and will be suppressed on the grounds of being “commercial in confidence”.

Draft copies of the audit, which was called in the ‘public interest’ by the aviation safety regulator on Sunday 3 August are believed to be on their way to Qantas and the Minister for infrastructure, Anthony Albanese.

It is understood Qantas will now assist CASA in refining the content and style of a mutually agreed final version of the audit, which will never see the light of day in its full form unless immense political pressure is placed on the government to release it in its entirety.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson says:

The report itself won’t be released as it is an audit report and contains commercial in confidence material from the airline. Just like any other audit report.

But this is not like any other audit in the history of civil aviation in Australia.

It is about a frightening string of grave incidents affecting Qantas flights, and the failure of both the airline and regulator to carry out their legally enforceable obligations to ensure the completion of airworthiness directives.

It concerns a break down in operational standards at Qantas that has been abundantly obvious since the latter half of last year, and is supposed to identify the reasons for massive deferrals of maintenance which critics say constitutes a dangerous abuse of the use of time limited permissible defects on aircraft to keep them in revenue service when they ought to have been under repair.

If CASA cannot detect and enforce the safety regulations that apply to Australian airlines, whether nasty little killer outfits like Transair or supposedly untouchable big brands like Qantas, it is itself a danger to the safety of travellers and a very big risk to politicians who seek to shield it from exposure.

CASA claims that it will in due course issue a press release or perhaps even hold a press conference in which selected or key findings of the audit are released or discussed.

Maybe it can arrange with Qantas to have in attendance a full children’s chorus singing the Qantas national anthem ‘I still call Australia home’ to put the bravely inquiring media into the right frame of mind.

Meanwhile…

Oxygen bottle ricocheted inside QF30’s cabin

The oxygen bottle that exploded in the forward hold of QF 30 and forced an emergency descent to Manila on 25 July actually ricocheted off the cabin ceiling and back through the hole it blasted in the floor before escaping out of a gaping hole in the side of the Boeing 747 just in front of the wing.

The preliminary report of the ATSB inquiry into the emergency doesn’t solve the riddle as to why the bottle exploded, but it does show how serious the incident was, and how the pilots dealt with multiple systems failures in the following minutes.

It describes in graphic detail by the minute what happened after a loud bang and airframe shudder was experienced when the Hong Kong-Melbourne jet with 363 people on board was 475 kilometres northwest of Manila airport.

The pilots immediately lost all three instrument landing systems, several additional navigational aides and their anti-skid braking system and half the aileron (wing tip) control cables, although the alternative set remained unaffected.

After calling Mayday and putting the jet into a steep dive the cabin pressure fell as low as 25,900 feet before a safe breathing altitude of 10,000 feet had been reached on the approach to the airport.

The report contains easily followed diagrams and images of the blast damage.

The ATSB says it will carefully review the result of a Qantas survey of all of the oxygen bottle installations and their documentation and has urged all airlines to carefully inspect and review supplementary oxygen systems.

However the critical piece of evidence, the main body of the cylinder that exploded, lies somewhere on the bottom of the ocean.

The inquiry continues.

Peter Fray

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