Penalties totalling $US10 million ($A11.02 million) filed by the US safety regulator the FAA against United and US Airways overnight are a sharp reminder of how derelict Australian regulators are when it comes to comparable breaches by Qantas and REX.
Neither Qantas nor REX have been prosecuted or fined over gross violations of the safety rules and the prospect of any action being taken against any large Australian carrier until there is a disaster involving them is zero.
US Airways faces a $5.4 million penalty for operating 1647 flights over three months in breach of safety directives and its own safety procedures, which are incorporated in its operating licence.
United’s proposed fine of $3.8 million is for using towels instead of protective caps while working on one engine on one Boeing 737, which it then flew in an unairworthy condition for 200 flights.
But in Australia, Qantas flew a sub fleet of 737-400 jets for five years in breach of compulsory airworthiness directives to repair their forward pressure bulkheads, by not completing the work.
Qantas denied that the failure to complete the work compromised safety, and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) denied that it had any obligation to ensure that Qantas complied with such directives.
This was the moment as reported in Plane Talking in February that made aviation regulation in Australia look comparable to the failed nation status it enjoys in Nigeria.
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Our major flag carrier actually claimed that an airworthiness directive was not about air safety and the government and CASA did nothing, apart from Minister Anthony Albanese making another Qantas-is-great statement in Parliament.
By US standards, Qantas would have been hauled up into account and fined a considerable sum. CASA should also have been asked to explain why it nearly grounded Ansett in April 2001 for failing to carry out compulsory airworthiness directives on aged 767s yet took no action against Qantas.
Similarly the air safety investigator, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, refused late in 2007 to investigate the filling of emergency oxygen packs with pure nitrogen by Qantas maintenance workers, an incident that could have destroyed a plane in the event of a cabin depressurisation in which pilots would have resorted to the masks and passed out, and highlighted serious incompetence in Qantas maintenance procedures.
In November 2007, REX, which is the world’s second largest operator of the aging SAAB 340 turbo-prop, deliberately flew one of them from just beyond Wagga Wagga to Sydney on a single engine with 33 passengers on board after the other engine failed.
This incident, which was in complete contravention of Civil Aviation Orders Part 20.6, involved the flight failing to land at the nearest available airport, and made a crash a certainty in the event of the other engine failing. It was a gamble by REX. It broke a cast-iron safety regulation. The ATSB refused to investigate, CASA failed in its duty to enforce the law, and the incident festers on as a disgraceful reflection on the airline, the two regulators, and the Department of Transport under the previous government.
US safety administration is far from perfect, and is currently under intense scrutiny over several other issues. But how much more imperfect, incompetent and ethically corrupt is the regulation and government oversight of air safety in Australia?
Aviation safety regulation in this country is incompetent and ethically corrupt, and significant ministerial oversight hasn’t existed for at least 50 years.