The major pilot union in Australia has urged a Senate inquiry to recommend actions to reverse what it argues is a dangerous degradation of pilot training and airline safety standards by low cost carriers.

The submission, which addresses each of the terms of of the inquiry into pilot training and safety standards set up on the instigation of independent SA senator Nick Xenophon, follows the earlier filing of its Statement of Concern on Diminishing Flight Standards.

The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) has written its concerns and proposed remedies in lay terms that challenge aspects of the low cost carrier models as they exist in Australia, as well as the more general management strategies being applied to Qantas, for which most of its membership flies.

These extracts are in the order in which they appear in the submission.

part 1The association’s proposed remedies are:

part 1b

It argues against the adoption of the new US standard of 1500 hours flying experience for any first officer recruitment to an airline operating larger aircraft whether regional or mainline.

part 2It’s recommendations also deal with the anomaly that Australian regulations do not define the experience necessary to be a captain of aircraft larger than those used in third tier operations.

part 2bThe association argues that the hiring practices of Australian low cost carriers discourage experienced pilots from applying, and produce a selection bias to inexperienced pilots, including those it claims are inadequately trained under current arrangements.

part 3bThe union’s recommendations about pay and conditions for trainee pilots would in effect outlaw in Australia the circumstances of fatigue and financial hardship that the US investigation into the Colgan Air crash at Buffalo in February last year found were present in the pilots who lost control of turbo prop airliner with the loss of 50 lives.

part 3c

In its filing as to the problems of retaining pilot skills in Australian airlines AIPA goes directly to its claims elsewhere that Qantas is determined to cut the heart out of the ‘old’ way of retaining a cadre of experienced pilots in its operations as well as those of Jetstar.

part 4 retainThere is a section of the AIPA submission about the over reliance of airlines in general on automation in the cockpits that the Senators and travel public mightn’t enjoy reading. In fact the misuse of automation by airlines whether low cost or high cost world wide has been of increasing concern to both Airbus and Boeing, and has been argued abroad as being one of the consequences of airline managements in general losing contact with pilot and flight standards issues.

part 5AIPA argues that the current regulatory powers of CASA in relation to piloting standards are ineffective, and can no longer be relied upon to create a situation where the airlines do more than simply meet the minimum legal standards.

part 6The submission concludes with its arguments in support of a private members bill introduced by Senator Xenophon to make it harder for airlines to evade their responsibilities to report safety incidents or use ‘cultural pressure’ to silence pilots concerned about safety related issues.

It actually goes to the heart of low cost carrier cultures that encourage pilots to work around the rules rather than to the rules, something that has in recent years lead to such bizarre incidents as a British Airways 747 flying right across the US and North Atlantic on only three engines, or a REX turbo prop flying most of the way from Wagga Wagga to Sydney on only one engine, a gamble that the ATSB not only ignored, but offered excuses for on behalf of the airline.

part 7The Senate Inquiry is urged to examine two of the more notorious incidents of Australian airlines evading their duties to report safety incidents as required by law, and the safety investigator the ATSB and the regulator CASA failing to pursue either for clear breaches of the aviation laws.

part 8At the end of its submission AIPA points to what amounts to double jeopardy in the public administration of air safety standards in Australia, with the incident investigator the ATSB apparently fearful of investigating human factors that might appear to apportion blame and the airlines neglecting them, just as a reader might conclude that they are neglecting their training obligations.

part 9

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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