Late yesterday the independent air safety investigator, the ATSB released a damning report into an astonishingly unsafe approach to Sydney Airport by a QantasLink turbo-prop at the end of a flight from Moree on Boxing Day 2008.

It missed all the general media outlets, not that the timing mattered given the unwillingness of newspapers to digest and fearlessly report on air safety failings of big advertising airlines in Australia.

But in terms of aviation safety, this was just another episode of Hush, my Country is Sleeping.

There is no effective accountability in air safety reporting in this country, nor in the official policy of never prosecuting big airlines for clear breaches of the law, compared to the regulatory enforcement of such matters in the US and most of Europe.

Earlier this year the ATSB, which does technical investigations that are admired and respected worldwide, released a report that detailed breaches of the law on reporting serious incidents by Jetstar.

Yet the ATSB shut down questioning of its investigation by declaring that it would take no queries about it following a press conference in Canberra, which didn’t even come with a dial-in facility.

There is a conflict inherent in the ATSB charter not to find or apportion blame in its investigations because of the emphasis on improving air safety, and the blunt reality of its descriptions of dangerous or illegal actions.

Surely the correct approach by the media, and the safety enforcer, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, is to use the factual findings of an ATSB inquiry to pursue recognition of failures in airline standards by the responsible managements of the carrier involved.

In the case of the latest report, a 50-seat QantasLink turbo-prop was flown so badly that it flirted with aerodynamic stall twice in 10 seconds at low altitude because the pilots neglected to adhere to the airline’s operational procedures.

The captain, who was supervising and assisting the first officer who was the pilot doing the actual flying, was disobeyed after he ordered the landing to be aborted and a go-around made.  The first officer nearly stalled the Dash 8-300 airliner again, only seconds later by persisting in an unstable and dangerous low-speed flight configuration as the turbo-prop struggled towards the runway.

Qantas is totally responsible for the safety standards of its pilots. However, its submissions to the ATSB and those of CASA before the final report was issued late yesterday were suppressed.

There is in this era of cost cutting, and questionable safety cultures, a need for total transparency in incidents such as this. Only then can he public be confident that the causal factors of such dangerous incidents are occupying the attention of airline managements, and being acted upon.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.