There is a lot of ducking for cover going on at Qantas and CASA today over the Boeing 717s that fly mining charters and regional services in WA, the NT and northern QLD.

Why were all of them subject to an inspection at various airports yesterday before being allowed to return to service?

And, just for comic relief, what were the circumstances in which several years ago, the control column of one of these jets became “disconnected” during what became an aborted takeoff roll?

CASA is supposed to regulate safety on behalf of the public. It has been castigated umpteen times in the Senate (and here) for not making full and timely public disclosures of safety issues that it becomes aware of, especially in relation to the Lockhart River crash in northern Queensland that killed 15 people in 2005.

On 22 September CASA issued this airworthiness directive concerning 717s, which required full compliance by 20 November.

However this morning it claimed that directive had nothing to do with yesterday’s mass inspections, and that only Qantas could explain them, which, so far Qantas hasn’t.

But why can’t CASA answer a straightforward question. Is it still protecting Qantas, despite the damning special audit it carried out earlier this year?

CASA was unable this morning to explain the somewhat dramatic background note on page two of the airworthiness directive, which begs for more detail even if it had nothing to do with yesterday’s events.

Crikey has been told by another source that the control “disconnection” did happen to an Australian 717.

So, did the pilot put it on the floor while the other pilot kept his hands on the other yoke, or what?

The 717 is not having a great time in Australia lately.

On Tuesday the Australian Transport Safety Bureau issued this preliminary report into what it terms a “serious incident” aboard a Qantaslink flight approaching Alice Springs with six crew and 70 passenger on board which appears to have flirted with stall conditions while banking sharply to line up for the landing.

Peter Fray

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