Thai International and Garuda Indonesia were caught red handed flying their jets into Australian airports in a dangerous and unprofessional manner in 2007 and 2008 but you’d scarcely know it if you read the summaries of the final reports into these incidents by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau this week.
This is because the ATSB is not there to give blunt warnings to the Australian public, but follow the softly spoken, evasively worded protocols of international air safety investigations.
On 4 November 2007 a Thai International 777 crew untrained in a procedure called a non-directional beacon approach, nearly flew their jet into the ground north of Melbourne Airport.
On 9 May 2008 a Garuda crew disregarded the Perth control tower, first pulling away from an attempt to land on a part of a runway closed for repairs, then came back, nearly landed on the same spot, and then landed further down the runway.
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It was described at the time as one of the most gratuitously ignorant and stupid things any airline had been seen to do at an Australian airport.
The ATSB interim reports nailed the bad flying in damning detail.
But the final reports are, as usual, from a public point of view, total cop outs. Under the rules, they can’t be anything else.
In the case of the Thai International near crash, the ATSB says:
The aircraft operator had known about the difficulties in flying approaches without constant angle approach paths and was in the process of training flight crews on procedures specific to NDB approaches when the incident occurred. In October 2007, the operator introduced a training program to instruct pilots on a new method to conduct those approaches. At the time of the incident, the pilots of the 777 had not undergone that training.
The real story is that Thai should never had been allowed to send jets with incompletely trained pilots into Melbourne at the controls of a large jet.
In its Garuda screws up at Perth final report, the ATSB seeks to shift the remedial action to the airport, not to two pilots who were inadequate for the task of receiving and acting on instructions that dozens of other pilots from all around the world had no difficulty in following.
On the second approach, the flight crew were again issued the landing clearance ‘… runway 21, displaced threshold, cleared to land’. The aerodrome controller recalled observing the aircraft on what appeared to be an approach to land on the closed section of the runway and instructed the flight crew to go around. The go-around instruction also included information to assist the flight crew in identifying where the aircraft was to be landed. That additional information, together with the high workload being experienced by the flight crew at that time, may have momentarily confused them, with the effect that they did not assimilate and act on the instruction to go around.
Since when is this an excuse for poor airmanship? The answer is of course, anything is excusable when Australian airlines need to pass through Indonesian air space to get to Europe and much of Asia, and we must not offend our friends in Jakarta.
Since the Perth incident Garuda also managed to stuff up an approach to Darwin last December. The details of that suggest the carrier is as dangerous as ever.