The Jetstar report issued by the ATSB yesterday and the response by the Qantas low cost carrier provide abundant reasons for an inquiry into the airline’s flight safety standards and the will and capacity of CASA to act in relation to public safety.

In its statement on the report Jetstar says:

The ATSB report made no findings against Jetstar, nor did it find any fault with Jetstar’s policies or procedures. The safety of the aircraft was never compromised.

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This is nonsense.

How compromised is a flight in which the ATSB finds that for two minutes on final approach to Changi Airport “no control manipulations or systems activation was recorded,” a period in which they should have among other things lowered the wheels, selected the correct flap settings, armed the ground spoilers, selected auto brake, completed the check list and checked the flight parameters?

How compromised was the safety of a flight where the pilots ‘thought they were at 800 feet’ when the ATSB meticulously records the radio altimeter warnings that sounded in the cockpit telling them they were lower, much lower than that, and they have in front of them instruments that tell them they were lower?

How compromised was the safety of this 220 seat jet that the first officer, who was the pilot flying, couldn’t even get the attention of his captain who was fiddling with his mobile phone, which he apparently struggled to switch off even though our children can turn theirs off in about three seconds?

Let’s summarise. The jet doesn’t have its wheels locked down, the flap settings haven’t been changed to those required for a safe landing, the pilots can’t even work out what their altitude is in a cockpit full of audible alarms and altimeters, and the captain is inept at managing such a simple device as a mobile phone?

And Jetstar says safety of flight wasn’t compromised?

What does it take to compromise the safety of flight of a Jetstar aircraft? Ground impact? Several hundred dead and injured?

The Jetstar statement seeks to make this just a routine go-around incident. Which is rubbish. If it was routine it wouldn’t be the subject of an ATSB inquiry.

Beyond this deplorable instance of poor, sub-standard and manifestly unsafe flying by Jetstar there is the bigger issue as to what CASA is doing?

CASA had excellent reasons for grounding Jetstar’s only low fare competitor in Australia, Tiger Airways, last year, because it was an imminent threat to public safety. But it beggars belief to entertain any suggestion that Jetstar didn’t pose a threat to public safety by its failure to maintain flying standards in this jet, and that obligation and responsibility is that of the board of Qantas and the senior management of Jetstar.

Is CASA totally gutless when it comes to Qantas and its subsidiaries? It is an important question worthy of pursuit through an inquiry.

(CASA was asked about this yesterday. There has been no response at this stage.)

Surely we need to have an exploration as to whether in cases like this CASA doesn’t have all the powers it needs to pursue safety outcomes with Jetstar similar to those it pursued with Tiger.

And we need to ask whether there are continuing problems at Jetstar. Last July there was a serious incident in which a Jetstar A320 flew dangerously low on an unstable approach to Melbourne airport.

The company’s own report found that a significant factor was its captain being overworked by having an incompetent first officer to deal with. Yet that first officer was hired by Jetstar as being competent? What went wrong? How do we fix it?

In November last year when a Jetstar flight was approaching Cairns another captain had to deal with a first officer so incompetent he or she couldn’t properly select flap.  For this level of incompetence to reach the cockpit of a Jetstar flight carrying passengers is shocking, and suggests strongly that something is seriously wrong with standards and management oversight of this carrier.

In my opinion Jetstar has publicly sought to address these issue with media message massaging. That will not stop a disaster. The risk of a disaster can only be reduced by effective standards, effectively administered, by the airline and by the safety regulator.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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