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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr POLLARD (Lalor) (3:10 AM) .- 1 am not at all happy about the request that the House approve the allocation of loan moneys for the purchase of additional Electra aircraft. I am strongly of the opinion that when the first Electras were purchased a very great disservice was done to the Commonwealth of Australia. It is proper that this opinion should be voiced and I propose to give some substantial evidence to show that there are good grounds for apprehension as to the safety of these aircraft.

On 10th November last the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) received from the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr. Townley, answers to a series of questions that he had placed on the notice-paper. The Minister revealed that the Electras purchased by Australia are of the same type as were involved in accidents in the United States and are of a type similar to that for which the Parliament is now asked to approve the allocation of loan moneys. Those aircraft were found to have developed a very serious constructional fault. Referring to the accidents in the United States the Minister said -

They have previously been announced publicly by Lockheed as being caused by structural failures in the power plant area which allowed the power plant, when initiated by gusts or other forms of agitation, to move violently in a circular motion, with the result that the wing finally failed by flutter. In addition, the re-analysis showed a weakness of the aircraft when subjected to some forms of sharp-edged gust which, although it could not have caused the accident, needs remedial action.

Anybody can see that a structural fault of that type was of a very serious character. The Minister continued -

The programme of modification has been mutually agreed by the operators and will commence in December, 1960, the last aircraft being completed in June, 1961. The modification programme is based on each aircraft spending twenty days at the Lockheed plant and on one aircraft per day being released after modification.

Lockheed has agreed to carry out the modification of the aircraft and affected associated spares at its own expense and to obtain F.A.A. approval for it, together with approval for the modified aircraft to return to a speed of 275 knots.

I understand that as a result of the structural fault that had developed the speed of these aircraft in Australia was reduced to a maximum of 225 knots. The Minister continued -

The airlines are required to deliver the aircraft at Burbank in accordance with an agreed schedule. The operators have agreed to waive all future claims against Lockheed arising from this particular design weakness and from any consequences of the accidents which have resulted from it.

The modification will consist of increasing the stiffness of the power plant area and strengthening the wing. As it will involve the extensive use of jigs and tools of consideraable magnitude, it is obviously best for the modifications to be carried out at Burbank rather than here in Australia, and I have therefore agreed to the Lockheed proposals that the air-

Draft return to America.

I believe that there is every likelihood that approval of the modifications and removal of the speed restrictions will be given by the American Federal Aviation Agency by 16th December, but before the restrictions are removed to Australia, I have said that I will require a complete technical justification from Lockheed. With this in mind, I propose to have a technical expert visit Lockheed with one of the first Australian aircraft, to fully evaluate the Lockheed calculations and assessment.

The nature of the accidents in America is such that no chance can be taken of their happening again and the House can be assured no return to the higher cruising speed of 275 knots will be permitted in Australia until I and my department have been completely convinced of the efficacy of the modifications. I should add that I am satisfied the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation has done everything possible to find the cause of the accidents and to design modifications which will make the aircraft completely safe at the higher speeds."

It is obvious that the fault in these aircraft was discovered after they were delivered to Trans-Australia Airlines and Ansett-A.N.A. On 10th November last the Minister also answered a series of questions that I had placed on the notice-paper. I want to say frankly that I have no desire to damage T.A.A. or Ansett-A.N.A., but I think that the people of Australia should know the facts.


Mr Opperman - You will frighten the people away.


Mr POLLARD - I do not care. Our first duty is to let the people know the facts and to let them make their own assessment. A terrible mistake was made when these aircraft were purchased instead of Caravelles or some other type of aircraft. My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation was -

1.   On whose advice ox with whose approval were Electra aircraft purchased by Ansett-A.N.A.,

Trans-Australia Airlines or any other airlines in which the Government has a financial interest?

2.   Has the full purchase price been paid for these aircraft; if not, what amount is outstanding in each case?

The Minister replied as follows: -

1.   As I advised the House recently in reply to a question by the honorable member for East Sydney, the Government, after an exhaustive examination of every aspect of re-equipment of Australian airlines, decided in March, 1958, not to permit for the present the use of pure jets on domestic routes . . . both major airlines made applications for the purchase of Lockheed Electra and Viscount 800 Series turbo-propeller aircraft. These applications were approved by the Government.

That was not an answer to my question. I had asked on whose advice the aircraft were purchased and I was told that the applications were approved by the Government after exhaustive advice. The Minister continued -

2.   Both Trans-Australia Airlines and AnsettA.N.A. arranged loans through various sources to finance the purchase of Electras. In respect of two Electras for Ansett-A.N.A. the Government has guaranteed loans in pursuance of the Airlines Equipment Act 1958. The amount outstanding is £2,192,824. The third Electra of Ansett-A.N.A. has been financed by the company without government guarantee. At the end of this year the amount outstanding in respect of the three Electras purchased by T.A.A. will be £2,633,024.

I then asked the Minister -

3.   What structural or performance guarantees were given in respect of each Electra aircraft.

The Minister replied as follows: -

3.   The Lockheed Electra 188 is designed to the structural and performance standards of the United States Civil Air Regulations Part 4 (b) and certified as meeting these standards by Type Certificate 4A22 dated 18th December, 1959, issued by the Federal Aviation Agency of the United States Government.

That was simply a certificate from the Federal Aviation Agency. Quite obviously the aircraft did not live up to the guarantee because aircraft purchased by organizations in other countries failed to live up to their guarantee. Following that failure it was seen that the aircraft purchased for use in Australia would not live up to their guarantee and consequently Ansett-A.N.A. and T.A.A. reduced the maximum operating speed of the aircraft from 275 knots to 225 knots. The guarantee was worthless. I also asked the Minister -

4.   Were any guarantees given in any of the purchase arrangements for the recovery of economic losses that may arise from factors such as speed reductions brought about by structural faults?

Obviously ever since the airlines have operated these aircraft at a reduced speed, there has been a substantial economic loss to T.A.A. and, therefore, to the Government. I asked further -

If so, what was the nature of these economic loss guarantees?

This rs where I think the Parliament has been treated with contempt. The Minister said in answer to questions 4 and 5 -

The contract conditions are a matter for the airlines on the one hand and the manufacturer on the other and must be regarded as commercial information which is not normally made public.

The public are paying for these aircraft. The Minister should tell the Parliament what guarantees were given concerning any possible economic losses such as those that followed the reduction of speed. This is a piece of impertinence by the responsible authorities, and the offence has been accentuated by the Minister refusing to tell the Parliament whether guarantees against economic loss were given. It is for this Parliament to say whether it will endorse this sort of thing. I also asked the Minister question No. 6, in these terms -

Will the Minister give the Parliament an assurance that the reduced flying speed now observed by Electras pending structural alterations is a sufficient safeguard against severe storm conditions that could more than cancel out the efficiency of the speed reductions?

The Minister gave a long reply - no doubt it was supplied by his technical officers - which is not very satisfactory. To return to the answers to questions Nos. 4 and 5, the Minister said -

However, I repeat to the House what the Minister for Civil Aviation said in another place on August 17th that the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation has agreed to carry out the modifications of the aircraft and affected associated spares at its own expense and to obtain F.A.A. approval for it . . .

What good is an F.A.A. approval when it proved worthless in relation to an aircraft which met a sad fate in another country? The Minister went on - together with approval for the modified aircraft to return to a speed of 275 knots. The airlines are required to deliver the aircraft at Burbank in accordance with an agreed schedule.

This is the part that the Parliament and the public should know -

The operators have agreed to waive all future claims against Lockheed arising from the particular design weakness covered by the modifications and from any consequences of the accidents which have resulted from it

That is very kind of them. They have waived all claims against Lockheed. This Government or this Parliament will waive all claims against Lockheed because the company has said that it will fix up this fault. What guarantee has this Parliament that the structural alterations will be efficacious? What guarantee have we that the F.A.A. certificate will give the people more safety than they had prior to the modifications? Question No. 8 was -

Is the Government committed to bear any portion of the cost involved in alterations to the Electras?

I also asked: -

When is it expected that structural alterations will be commenced and completed in each case?

The Minister replied -

Each aircraft will take 23 days to process through Lockheed's factory at Burbank, California. The first Australian aircraft is scheduled to go on to the production line on 19th December this year, and be finished on 18th January, 1961. The last aircraft will be modified commencing 3rd June, 1961.

I think that the Parliament and the people should know this state of affairs. We have no guarantee that when structural alterations have been made the aircraft will be any safer than they were when they carried a guarantee from the Federal Aviation Agency on first delivery. The astonishing thing is that, in consideration of these modifications, the Government has waived any further claim against the company if the modifications do not prove satisfactory. Another astonishing thing is that there is no coverage, no compensation whatever from the company, for the economic loss that has already been suffered. I say again that the Minister had a responsibility to convey to the Parliament the nature of the agreement between Lockheed and the Government regarding the other factor I mentioned, but the Minister said that the contract conditions were a matter for the airlines. Are not the public concerned? The people are paying the piper. The Minister said -

The contract conditions are a matter for the airlines on the one hand and the manufacturers on the other and must be regarded as commercial information which is not normally made public.

What will the Auditor-General say about that when confronted with the losses? What are the electors going to say about this secret and private contract between the two parties?

I direct attention to this matter in the hope that the Minister will see that no further mistakes of this kind are made. I express the hope that the modifications will be successful. I see no justification whatever, just because the company is doing the modifications, to say that no further claims will be made against the company even if further failures in the Electra aircraft occur.







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