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Notice given 18 July 2002

461  Senator Knowles: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to the government response to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee report on Air Safety and Cabin Air Quality in the BAe 146 Aircraft:

(1) Why does the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) consider that an Australian Airworthiness Directive (AD) which ‘requires all operators to undertake inspections of oil contamination at intervals not to exceed 500 flights’ is adequate, when that many flights could constitute around 125 days (at a rate of 4 flights per day) before any check is made.

(2) (a) How are the ‘inspections of oil contamination’ undertaken and by whom; and (b) what empirical method is used for determining the presence of oil in the entire cabin air system.

(3) Given that there is considerable evidence of poor cabin air quality in Australia, why is it considered that Australia will have ‘a more timely and effective response into cabin air quality’ if we wait for more international studies to determine the approach to be taken.

(4) Why would it be ‘premature to develop unique Australian cabin air quality standards at this stage’.

(5) Given that Australia has been at the leading edge of many aviation discoveries such as the black box, microwave landing system, slide rafts, doppler navigation, distance measuring equipment and T-VASIS (visual landing slope guidance), why can Australia not set the pace and determine corrective action that needs to be taken to eliminate the problem.

(6) The Government may have been ‘satisfied that the aircraft met the design standards applicable at the time of the introduction of the aircraft into Australian service,’ however, given how much evidence is available about toxic fumes entering the cabins of BAe 146s: (a) why is the Government relying on out-of-date information to certify the airworthiness of the planes; and (b) who in the Government is satisfied today.

(7) Given that many crew and passengers are still getting sick: (a) how does the Government consider that ‘the modifications subsequently introduced by the aircraft manufacturer and incorporated by the airlines,’ are adequate to resolve the problem sufficiently to be able to ensure the complete safety of crew and passengers; (b) what percentage of these modifications, have been completed by National Jet Systems; and (c) how do these modifications completely fix the problem.

(8) Why has Australia agreed to a further delay in remedying a fault that is causing illness among crew and passengers by establishing a ‘Reference Group’.

(9) (a) Why has the Government asked CASA to establish ‘a “Reference Group” … that could monitor the appropriateness of these reporting arrangements in light of overseas developments’; (b) why is another inquiry being established to provide the same information that has been provided by all other Australian and overseas inquiries; and (c) when is this reference group due to report and to whom.

(10) (a) Who comprises the reference group; (b) will the group be quite independent; and (c) what are its terms of reference.

(11) With reference to the statement that, ‘air conditioning packs are subject to regular overhaul, the engine seals are replaced at frequent intervals and the air conditioning ducts are thoroughly cleaned or replaced at each servicing’: (a) how many thousand hours is ‘regular’; (b) how frequent is ‘frequent’; (c) what is an example of ‘each servicing’; and (d) can it be guaranteed that the thorough cleaning and/or replacement have been carried out.

(12) (a) Why does ‘the Authority ... not propose to introduce additional maintenance requirements for the BAe 146 aircraft’; and (b) why does the Government consider ‘that maintenance procedures currently performed on the BAe 146 aircraft are appropriate,’ when there is much medical evidence of sickness among crew and passengers.

(13) With reference to the statement that, ‘changes to the BAe 146 Aircraft Flight Manuals … provide for improved procedures for the isolation of any source of fumes into the aircraft,’ and that, ‘This process allows faulty components, such as leaky engine seals, to be isolated and the problem corrected at an appropriate time and location’: (a) how can contaminated air be ‘isolated’ when the air ducting has already been contaminated; and (b) what is considered an ‘appropriate time and location’ for the problem to be corrected.

(14) Considering that crew members are too afraid of losing their jobs if they speak out about cabin air contamination, why is it that ‘a specific reporting mechanism for cabin air complaints is not considered necessary at this time,’ even though, ‘there are already several types of incident reporting systems in place’.

(15) If the current structures are adequate, why have the problems not been rectified.

(16) Given that Australia appears to be at the international forefront of the BAe 146 air contamination problem with the Senate committee report and the report of Professor Chris Winder, why do we have to wait for third parties to catch up and report to us.

(17) Given that the average flight for a BAe 146 amongst the world fleet is 55 minutes, and that Australian BAe 146 aircraft average flight times are over double this and, that apart from the crew, passengers receive twice the world average oil contamination exposure, why can we not be world leaders in fixing this problem.

(18) Why has the Government asserted that there is ‘no causal link between contamination and health effects [that] could be substantiated using available data,’ when a number of aviation experts and doctors have provided much learned information on the subject.

(19) How can such a statement be made when all traditional research on toxicity of the oil components on humans is based on conditions at ground level and not at an 8000 foot cabin altitude or after the oil has been burnt or modified through a jet engine.

(20) Why is the Government relying on the reference group to ‘consider whether a specific reporting mechanism needs to be introduced based on research currently under way,’ instead of all the research that has repeatedly confirmed the problem.

(21) As CASA maintains that ‘Australian operators have already completed air circulation modifications that are designed to improve the cabin air environment of the BAe 146,’ and ‘that National Jet Systems has also completed modifications to its aircraft’: (a) does this mean that all National Jet Systems’ planes have had all the modifications; if so, when was each plane modified; (b) have any aircraft had all the modifications; and (c) has there been any reported cabin air contamination in any of those planes since modification.

(22) With reference to the comments about testing conducted on aircraft VH-NJY:  Is this the same aircraft that had both its wings so badly corroded that it had to be returned to the factory in England to be repaired; if so: (a) has this aircraft had any adverse reports made about it since its return to Australia; and (b) what were those reports.

(23) With reference to Airworthiness Directive AD/BAe 146/86, issued by CASA, which requires that, whenever oil contamination of the cabin air system is confirmed, a copy of the associated report be forwarded to CASA addressed to the Section Head, Systems: (a) how many such reports have been received since 3 April 2001 and on which aircraft; and (b) have there been multiple reports on the same aircraft.

(24) Given that contaminated air, once in the cabin air ducting system, cannot be ‘isolated’, what useful purpose does the AD requirement of ‘[e]ither before further flight, or within 10 flying hours provided the source of the contamination is identified and isolated from the cabin air environment before further flight, using either flight operations procedures to maintenance procedures’ serve.

(25) (a) Is Mobil 291 still toxic; (b) what specifically is the difference in composition of the new and old oils; (c) how many of the ingredients are listed on the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) Designated List of Hazardous Substances; and (d) is Mobil in full compliance with the regulations.

(26) Is the Government satisfied that Mobil 291 is safe when humans are exposed to it and its by-products.

(27) Why does the Government believe ‘it is not necessary to develop new codes covering fuel substances used by these aircraft,’ when crew and passengers continue to get sick from cabin air contamination.

(28) Why does the Government believe ‘it is not necessary to develop new codes covering fuel substances used by these aircraft,’ when the oil and its by-products have toxic properties.

(29) How is the Government sure that operators of all BAe 146 aircraft in Australia use Mobil 291 oil.

(30) (a) Does the Minister accept that the government’s response to the toxicity of the oil is questionable; (b) does the Minister accept that the fact that ‘several of the ingredients used in ... Mobil jet Oil II are already listed on the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) Designated List of Hazardous Substances’ and that this ‘is generally reflected in the regulatory framework of all Australian occupational health and safety jurisdictions’ is an insufficient response; (c) is the Minister aware that there are two NOHSC standards used to classify hazardous substances, the list and the approved criteria; (d) does the Minister accept that even a simple application of both standards to the known ingredients in Mobil jet Oil II (as suggested by NOHSC in its own guidance material) show that this product is a hazardous substance; and (e) if this is all that needs to be done, is the Government prepared to do this.

(31) Why did CASA not issue the manufacturer’s Service Information Leaflet in full as an AD regarding the cabin environment as a matter of occupational health and safety regardless of whether it would or could ‘establish a precedent where the Authority is involved with mandating various aspects of customer comfort, such as number of toilets, colour scheme, quality of food etc’.

(32) Given that there is evidence to suggest that flight crews have been seriously affected by contaminated cabin air on the aircraft, particularly during take-off and landing: (a) why is the Government supporting CASA’s view not to mandate introduction of the modifications for all BAe 146; and (b) does the Government agree that such sickness among flight crew does in fact create ‘an unacceptable risk to safety’.

(33) (a) Does the Minister accept that aviation safety is something that someone outside this important industry would understand to cover all aspects of safety, including the health and safety of its workers, however, this does not seem to be how industry insiders see it—to them aviation safety is about making sure airplanes keep flying; (b) is the Minister aware of claims that Mr Toller, CASA’s Director of Safety, arguably the highest aviation safety professional in Australia, thinks occupational health and safety is not CASA’s business; (c) why is this so; and (d) given that section 28BE of the Civil Aviation Act (duty to exercise care and diligence) states that the holder of an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) must at all times take all reasonable steps to ensure that every activity covered by the AOC and everything done in connection with such an activity is done with a reasonable degree of care and diligence: If CASA will not look after the health and safety of workers in the industry, who is assigned to do so.

(34) Why does the Government consider committee recommendation 3 as unnecessary, given that the work allegedly carried out on all BAe 146 aircraft has allowed contaminated air to continue to flow into the cabins of some aircraft.

(35) What has been the outcome of the advice of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to his state and territory counterparts on the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on the Senate committee’s recommendation for future workers compensation and other insurance cases.

(36) (a) Why does the Government agree with the assertion made by the National Health and Medical Research Council ‘that the issue of aircraft cabin air does not meet the criteria against which urgent requests are assessed,’ when part of the criteria is that ‘there must be a medium/high risk of threat to public health ... [and] the population at risk’; and (b) why does an excess of 2 million passengers per year not constitute a potential public health risk.

(37) (a) Why does the Government agree with the UK Committee that ‘triorthocresyl phosphate and volatile organic compounds … have been found in such low levels that concerns about significant health risk are not substantiated,’ when Australian experts in their fields conclude otherwise; (b) were the aircraft on which these tests were completed suffering from oil contamination at the time; and (c) were the tests carried out by an independent party that was free to choose how and which aircraft were to be examined.

(38) Given that changes to air-conditioning filters fitted ‘by Ansett were designed to remove the presence of odours in the cabin air environment,’ but ‘National Jet Systems currently do not have filters fitted to their fleet’: (a) as National Jet Systems operated more BAe 146 aircraft than Ansett, why did they not incorporate carbon filters; and (b) why is it that Ansett complied with all the manufacturer’s recommendations but National Jet Systems did not.

(39) Even though the new filters may remove odours, how do they remove toxic gases from air entering the cabin.

(40) What useful purpose does ‘improving the galley air extraction and increasing the airflow in the aisle and vestibule areas’, as done by National Jet Systems, serve if the air entering the cabin is contaminated.

(41) (a) How did the galley modification correct the air contamination problem; and (b) is that modification still installed on all the aircraft or has it been removed.

462  Senator Knowles: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to the Air Transport Safety Bureau Report 200103696 which cites two instances of cabin air contamination of the same aircraft, VH-NJA, on consecutive days and in both instances, the crew donned oxygen masks after being affected by contaminated air, and the cabin crew and passengers were affected by contaminated air:

(1) Why was the plane not immediately turned around when fumes were first detected.

(2) How are crew members who are wearing oxygen masks capable of identifying the source of the contamination.

(3) Is it not considered an emergency situation in which the aircraft should be landed as soon as possible; if not, what would happen if all crew members were seriously affected at the same time and unable to continue their duties.

(4) (a) How many flights were there between the two reported incidents; (b) why are the two incidents on the same report form; and (c) are they not two separate incidents.

(5) Given the documented illness of crew and passengers on the first flight: (a) why was there found to be no sign of oil contamination when initially inspected by the ground engineers; and (b) what was different between the engineering check after the first flight found ‘no signs of oil contamination or oil leaks,’ and the next inspection, which ‘revealed oil contamination in the number 3 engine’.

(6) Given that, on 6 September 1999, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau issued recommendation R19990052 to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) that stated in part, ‘These deficiencies should be examined by the regulatory authority as part of its responsibilities for initial certification and continued airworthiness of the BAe 146 aircraft’: Why then has CASA responded (more than 6 months later) that ‘CASA is satisfied that the BAe 146 aircraft in service in Australia are safe for public transport’.