After the shocks that emerged in a Senate committee hearing last Friday concerning pilot training and airline safety in Australia, the inquiry has been extended to May 4.

It is understood the inquiry, chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan, will recall the CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, the Jetstar Group CEO, Bruce Buchanan, the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Martin Dolan and the CEO of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, John McCormick, and seek the attendance of Virgin Blue CEO, John Borghetti, who did not attend last week’s hearings at which his airline offended some of the committee with the dismissive brevity of its written submission.

It is further understood that some of the those the inquiry wishes to question further are keen to be recalled, after a hearing that was crammed with fresh information and gave rise to dozens of additional questions on notice including to representatives of a range of private pilot training organisations.

During that hearing Senator Heffernan raised an incident involving a near wheels-up landing by an Australian registered A330. Heffernan’s disclosure caused confusion at the witness table for the Qantas entourage in which Joyce said there was no incident, and Buchanan said he thought it was a Jetstar A330 at Singapore Airport. (Which it was, and which is being investigated by CASA.)

There was similar disarray when Senator Nick Xenophon, who had instigated the inquiry, ambushed Joyce over the existence of a letter from CASA demanding an explanation of a series of 15 “stick-shaker” incidents involving Qantaslink Dash 8 turbo props in which the airliners, which operate many of the flights politicians use to complete their trips to Canberra, were put in imminent danger of stalling.

Only one of those incidents had been previously disclosed to the travelling public through a report in Crikey blog Plane Talking, and that involved a first officer disobeying the instructions of a captain to abandon an unstable approach to Sydney Airport and go around.

Instead, the junior pilot persisted with the dangerous approach, causing two “stick-shaker” warnings within 10 seconds while it was dropping towards the airport from the direction of Botany Bay.

This incident was of major safety concern yet air-brushed in the ATSB report into a short document that escaped general media attention, after being released too late in the day to make any of the papers.

The senators are also understood to have unfinished business in relation to their reference to examine the near crash of Jetstar A320 during a missed approach to Melbourne’s main airport on July 21, 2007.

Critiques of the differences between the Qantas/Jetstar submission to the Senate inquiry over this incident and the testimony of the ATSB and CASA, have been published by Plane Talking.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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