The pilot union AIPA has called on the federal government to pursue an apparent attempt to interfere with the evidence two Jetstar pilots were giving to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau about a near-crash by one of the airline’s A320s at Melbourne Airport on July 21, 2007.

The incident, which was only under investigation because of a report in Crikey, saw about 140 people flown to within six or seven metres of the ground in fog by two pilots left in a state of confusion because the airline had improperly changed its operating procedures for missed approaches.

Captain Richard Woodward, vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, this morning said:

“The evidence provided to the Senate inquiry yesterday about persons unknown impersonating ATSB officers was extraordinary.

“AIPA calls on the federal government to commit sufficient resources to the Federal Police to allow a proper investigation into this occurrence. It is critically important that a properly resourced investigation take place.

“It does not matter whether this bogus ATSB investigator was someone trying to gain information, a prank, or a serious attempt to interfere with an air safety investigation.  This type of behavior compromises the safety investigation process and thus puts air safety at risk.”

The impersonation attempt was raised by senior Jetstar A320 training captain Geoff Klouth. The ATSB found in its final report into the incident that Jetstar had changed the standard operating procedures for missed approaches several weeks before the incident, and that this caused bewilderment in the cockpit because the approved Airbus procedures of checking throttle settings had been removed from the top of the relevant check list.

It also found that Jetstar made no risk analysis of the changes, and left no documentary evidence that the ATSB could find concerning  its actions, which it reversed after the incident became notorious.

Crikey blog Plane Talking has previously reported that the Jetstar actions also invalidated the certification its A320s to operate in Australia, and constituted one of the most gratuitously ignorant infringements of airline safety standards on record in the country.

In his testimony, Captain Klouth also criticised the training he was required to pay for to be employed as a Jetstar A320 pilot when he resumed a flying career that ended with the collapse of Ansett Mark II in 2002 and saw him work for the ATSB before being recruited by the Qantas subsidiary.

“I did my A320 rating with Alteon, which is a Boeing-owned company,” Klouth said. “I was not provided with cockpit diagrams on which to practice procedures, or provided with any systems manuals (other than those purchased from Jetstar), with which to revise the computer-based training and had simulator instructors who had never actually flown the aircraft.

“The instructors were not familiar with the airline operating procedures and would actually speak disparagingly about the airline that I was to be employed by. It was only because I had been trained on jet aircraft that I was able to understand what would be required of me when I was checked by the airline. The training provides little more than an endorsement approved by CASA.

“It does not provide value for money and does not prepare a new pilot adequately for line training.”

Klouth told the inquiry that the previously highly regarded standards of airline flying that the public had come to expect from the major Australian airlines were no longer “a given”.

The inquiry is considering arguments for and against Australia adopting the same tough new standards of experience for mainline airline pilots that were recently formulated in the US by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Peter Fray

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