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Back in the day.

The commendable last minute Hitch articles in Australian Flying are always worth the time, the last published 23/01/15 very neatly sums up the re opening of the Pel-Air investigation. The analogy of a ‘Fisher King’ wound is apt, but IMO stops just of the approaching the ‘big’ issues, for it will not only be the GA sector which suffers. The Pel-Air story will become another toxic, festering wound in the moribund remains of Australian aviation and international credibility. The story of flight nurse Karen Casey will shortly come into the public domain and present an almost unbelievable, but sadly true picture to the world of the depraved practices eschewed by the legal, regulatory and accident investigation systems. The Senate inquiry clearly, unequivocally identified the collusion between the regulator (CASA) and the investigator (ATSB), the cynical disregard for ICAO Annexe 13 reflected in the 1700 registered differences; the open disdain for the condition imposed by an Act of parliament; but worst of all; denied the world the lessons to be learnt from the accident.

The failure of the life vests still remains on the shelf, gathering dust. You do realise that the failed life vests almost caused the deaths of all; had it not been for the unselfish actions of the Norfolk Islanders and a large dollop of luck all could have perished that night. Inconveniently they did not.

What the wider world will make of this and how it will, ultimately affect Australian international credibility remains to be seen; on thing is certain, the Indonesian investigation of the Air_Asia has declined to enlist the assistance of the traditional ally, in no uncertain terms.

It has been suggested (by the wise owls) that many of the international readers may not fully understand precisely why the Pel-Air story is so desperately important to the health and well being of not only aviation in Australia but to that of the region. As the PAIN story teller and yarn spinner in chief, the job has been handed to me. In an attempt to get the message through I reckon one more attempt cannot hurt. But I must start at the beginning. So, are you sitting comfortably?; good, then I’ll begin. As all good tales begin with once upon a time and far be it from me to break with tradition:-

Once upon a time. Chapter 1.

It is uncertain when the blight first descended upon the Australian shores, some say ’twas always so, others have their own favourite version; you may go back as far as the DC 9 incident -(DC9)- or be as modern as the Pel-Air event, some favour the devastating Lockhart River crash, for others it was the Seaview event – no matter; they all have a common thread.

My own personal favourite is the Lockhart River tragedy; I have borrowed from the PAIN archives a summary report –(LHR)– which, operationally at least, begs many of the questions which remain unanswered. To emphasise that the Australian treatment of this and many other fatal accidents I have appended the brief analysis of Coronial inquest into fatal accidents -(CFA)-which pretty much sum up, for the wide awake student, what the Australian industry has been battered into grovelling acquiescence. In short, as a friend described it – total embuggerance, of the first water.

Did I mention a common thread? Ah yes, there it is. In any of the many fatal accidents and nearly all of the damn near fatal ones, the pug marks of the Civil Aviation Authority (CASA) beast may be seen, going in both directions; both toward and away from the event. “Bollocks” cries the crowd, but children I can assure you, ’tis all true. Do the homework I have set, then think on the DC9 incident, which is as good a place as any to start a general discussion.

The CAA Flight Operations Inspector (FOI) absolutely insisted that the aircraft be stalled, which you’ll admit was a bit rich. Why did the pilots simply refuse? the old pro’s cry, well in truth, they did, loud, long and hard; but in the end it was not only their approval as check airmen on the line, it was also their careers. Management never argued back or supported the crew, why? you ask. Well that is a good question, but basically it was because that was commercial suicide under the age old threat of ‘tough love’ audits. And so, one of the traditional management edicts was issued “Just get it done this once, shut them up and get them off site, fast as you can”. So it came to pass, that with beating hearts and bated breath, our stalwart crew DC9 crew ‘got it done’.

Ignore the fact that they all came whisker close to death, ignore the fact that the aircraft was almost destroyed, ignore the fact that two candidates for Check and training disregarded every sensible tenet in the book and ignored the AFM; just remember that the FOI not only kept his job, but was promoted and ‘moved’ to quieter pastures. Such is the power of the Australian regulator. Not only was there never a formal inquiry or report, but the company assisted, hushing up of the entire story, repairing a badly damaged aircraft and keeping quiet; all in order to protect their operating certificates.

Now if you do your homework, I shall read the next chapter or two of the CASA saga next time we meet.

Thank you for coming today, please do not make any noise on the way out and leave your chocolate frogs in that old hat, by the door. Tomorrow, we shall attempt to unravel more of the mystique of the great Australian air safety smoke and mirrors saga.

You can of course get the whole story from the unspeakable Pprune. But you need to start at page 1.

Toot – toot….Big Grin


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