It seems that every time the senior management of Pel-Air open their mouths in public they take on more water.

In today’s Australian, Jim Davis, the managing director of REX, the regional airline that owns Pel-Air follows up the amazing admissions made earlier this week by Pel-Air chairman and former federal Transport Minister, John Sharp about how the flight it sunk in the sea off Norfolk Island had ‘no Plan B’.

Among other things, Davis says “current policy did not mandate an alternative under the right circumstances, such as good en-route weather.”

But the rules do. Civil Aviation Order CAO 82.0 section (2.4) imposes an obligation on the company to carry enough fuel to reach an alternative airport under even the most adverse of conditions, such as an engine failure or cabin depressurisation.

The relevant regulation is reproduced in the post below this. Compliance with the rules is a condition of the Pel-Air air operating certificate or AOC unless a dispensation or waiver has been granted by CASA (which would itself cause a scandal) and CASA’s statement last night clearly implies this is not the case in that it reaffirmed the legal requirements of CAO 82.0.

Pel-Air is carrying out aerial ambulance work. It is seeking another major contract held by the Royal Flying Doctor Service in NSW. But it is managed by people who in relation to the Wednesday night Norfolk Island ditching exhibit variously a lack of knowledge of, or indifference to, the safety rules with the comments they have volunteered onto the public record of newspaper and broadcast media interviews.

Wednesday night’s ditching saw a woman being medically evacuation from Apia to Melbourne and her spouse, the two pilots, and two Care Flight staff left treading water for up to 90 minutes, with only three of them wearing life vests.

For almost two hours on Wednesday night, until the light on a life jacket was spotted in the ocean, Australia’s safety authorities are understood to have believed there were no survivors.

For an Australian jet to sink in the sea because it didn’t carry enough fuel is a gravely serious matter.

The controlled landing Davis and Sharp attributed to the heroic skills of the Captain Dominic James is now admitted by Davis to have occurred with little warning. (Question. Where was the mandatory life raft and was it launched and lost?)

A lot of critical safety issues are now metaphorically circling around a tiny jet lying in shallow water two kilometres off the Norfolk Island coast.

Isn’t a full review of the fitness of Pel-Air to hold its AOC a matter of some urgency from a public safety perspective if nothing else?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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