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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1030


Mr SPENDER(11.53) —The statement made yesterday by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley) was a thoroughly responsible approach to the report made by the Board of Accident Inquiry into the disaster which, on 21 February 1980, at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport, cost 13 lives. The Board's work was itself commendable. The report is detailed, thorough and fair. The Board was not able to come to a firm view as to the precise reasons for the accident but listed, in summarising its conclusions after making a painstaking examination of the evidence, various factors which contributed to the accident. I wish to make one or two comments arising out of the Board's report and, if I depart from what the Minister has said, he will understand that I am approaching the report in the same vein as that in which he has approached it.

First, I go to finding No. 1, which appears at page 274 of the report. This is one of the findings summarised under the heading 'Causes of the Accident'. The Board stated:

There are a number of factors which in combination were contributing causes of the accident. On the balance of probabilities, the Board considers they are as follows:

1. The aircraft was in excess of its maximum permissible take-off weight by some 110 to 150 kg, which in the circumstances would have had a minor detrimental effect on its climb performance.

The operator and the pilot were each partly responsible for the understatement of weight.

It appears from page 246 of the report that officers of the Department of Transport were aware of what might be called a practice. The report states:

It is clear that some officers of the Department of Transport were aware that the maintenance being carried out by the operator was unsatisfactory in certain respects. At least one officer was also aware that non-standard weights for passengers were being used for the calculation of aircraft loads and that less than full power was being applied on some take-offs. Accordingly, the question is raised, so far as is relevant to the accident, of the adequacy of the departmental surveillance which was carried out.

The Board came to the conclusion that it was advisable to have what it called ' surprise checks' and it proposed the institution of a system of such checks within a few months of any particularly critical surveillance report to ensure that corrective action had been taken. The Minister, at page 10 of his statement , considered that proposal but rejected it. I would ask the Minister to have another look at that recommendation of the Board. I do not suggest that the Board's recommendation necessarily has to be adopted in precisely the terms put by the Board, but I do suggest that it might be looked at somewhat along the lines of a random audit within a large company, which has two benefits. First, the audit, when carried out, can disclose factors which would need correction. Secondly, the existence of a system of random audits in itself would instil a certain measure of fear into those who might otherwise cut corners when it comes to maintenance.

I refer now to the power setting of the aircraft at the time of take off. In paragraph 24 of the chapter entitled 'Summary of Principal Conclusions, Observations and Causes of the Accident', on page 269 of the report, it is stated:

The evidence supports the conclusion, however, that power was set at a lower figure of 700*C ITT, following a provision introduced by the operator into the Operations Manual. This provision was an unsafe guide and contrary to the Air Navigation Regulations.

I emphasise the words 'unsafe guide'. This conclusion is picked up later in finding 5 of the Board's report, at page 274, where it is said that the setting of the power at that lower level would have seriously curtailed engine output. This practice was apparently known to the Department as something which occurs or might occur from time to time. In relation to the use of reduced power, on page 272 it is stated:

Senior officers of the Department were aware of rumours of the practice, but took no action to alert Examiners of Airmen to the risks involved or the need to put a stop to it.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 12 noon, the debate is interrupted in accordance with sessional order 101 (a). The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed.