Jetstar continues to use the language of denial in relation to its persistent commission of safety breaches and the latest known incident, which involved one of its flights dropping below the minimum safe altitude (MSA) on approach to Queenstown in New Zealand last month.
This is the New Zealand report concerning the incident, on 16 July, which is under investigation by Australia’s safety authority the ATSB because it was an Australian registered airliner.
This is the comment made by a Jetstar spokesperson, with emphasis added:
Jetstar said the plane’s pilots had reported that on approach an incorrect autopilot setting resulted in the aircraft going off its pre-determined track.
“This never put the aircraft in danger and the incident didn’t trigger any cockpit alerts. The pilots realised the error and corrected it promptly. Even if the error had not been corrected, the aircraft would still have landed safely,” Jetstar said.
Those words, about the aircraft not being in danger, were also advanced by a Jetstar spokesperson in relation to the Singapore incident in which two pilots acted in a totally unsafe and unprofessional manner at the controls of a Jetstar A321 in 2010 which descended to less than 400 feet above the ground over Changi Airport without being properly configured for landing while the captain stuffed around with a mobile phone.
These words from Jetstar are also a lie. A very serious lie. While it might be accepted by many that the job of a media spokesperson is to lie, such an obvious lie needs to be challenged.
The approach to Queenstown airport is ‘demanding’. It involves descending below the height of encircling mountains and making a set of course changes that avoid the complex terrain while maintaining an ability for the flight to safely extricate itself from the consequences of an unintended loss of power both on approach and departure.
By definition busting a safe minimum altitude puts a flight at risk. It is why there is a minimum safe altitude, and it is why the ATSB is investigating.
For the Jetstar spokesperson to say as reported that the flight wasn’t in danger because the error was corrected and it then landed safely is fatuous. The A321 at Singapore didn’t crash either, but that was because the first officer over ruled the captain, and flew the jet away from the airport to return and make a properly executed landing.
This incident at Queenstown ought to add to a ministerial and regulatory imperative to act immediately to review not just systemic failing in piloting standards in Jetstar, but into the will and capacity of CASA and the ATSB to carry out their duties in relation to major Australian airlines and inform and where necessary warn the travelling public.
Let’s be strict and clear in the case of the Queenstown incident. Jetstar put a flight into danger by dropping 1000 feet or 300 metres below the published safe minimum during its descent toward the mountain encircled airport.
For how long will it keep pushing the boundaries of luck and semantics? For how long will the minister and the authorities keep looking the other way?