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Notice given 9 August 2005

1067  Senator McLucas: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to general aviation matters in North Queensland:

(1) Is the Minister aware of an e-mail sent to the office of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services on 25 May 2005 on behalf of a former Trans Air pilot, known as Pilot B, who raised serious questions about aspects of Trans Air Papua New Guinea’s safety and operational practices with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities in 2002.


 (2) Did that e-mail: (a) contain advice that Pilot B had reiterated his warnings about Trans Air directly to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) by telephone in October 2004; and (b) strongly criticise the lack of action by CASA and the ATSB in investigating those allegations against Trans Air, made in October 2004.

(3) Did ATSB state to Pilot B, as claimed in the e-mail, that it could not act on his information unless it was put in writing.

(4) Is it the case that the ATSB has repeatedly stated that in-confidence telephone reports remain an acceptable means of whistle-blowing and that all that is required is a name and contact details.

(5) Did the e-mail state that: (a) CASA had failed ‘to deal with systematic breaches of the regulations’ by Trans Air ‘over a long period of time’; and (b) Pilot B had made ATSB aware by telephone in October 2004 of Trans Air’s ‘attitude towards rules and regulations’, and the likelihood ‘of dire consequences unless the relevant authorities acted’.

(6) Is it the case that, at no stage, did Pilot B claim knowledge of the events immediately surrounding the Lockhart River accident.

(7) Is it correct that Pilot B claimed knowledge of a prior history of safety and operational failings by Trans Air and inaction by the authorities when they were, or should have been, aware of those failings.

(8) Did Pilot B telephone Mr John Robbins, the ATSB’s Confidential Aviation Incident Reporting System manager, at 11am on 20 October 2004 to discuss aspects of Trans Air’s safety and operational conduct in PNG.

(9) (a) Did Mr Robbins refer Pilot B to CASA’s legal counsel, Mr Jonathon Aleck; and (b) is it the case that Mr Aleck and the pilot had a long discussion about this matter.

(10) Can the Minister confirm that during this conversation Pilot B repeated his allegations against Trans Air.

(11) Is it correct that, despite both CASA and ATSB knowing of these serious allegations against Trans Air 7 months prior to the Lockhart River tragedy, no action was taken by either organisation by way of investigation of Trans Air.

(12) Did Mr Alan Stray, ATSB Deputy Director of Aviation Safety Investigations, telephone another former Trans Air pilot, Pilot A, on the morning of 20 May 2005 to ask Pilot A to go on the record with similar allegations about Trans Air.

(13) Why is it necessary for the allegations by these two pilots specifically to be ‘on the record’ when making a call to CASA or the ATSB hotline, giving personal particulars and providing details of allegations, is enough to trigger an investigation.

(14) Did ATSB legal counsel, Mr Pat Hornby, also speak to Pilot A and tell him that he had the power to call him for a formal interview.

(15) Does Mr Hornby have this power and did he use it; if not, why not.

(16) Did the ATSB’s Lockhart River investigator, Mr William Fry, receive an e-mail from Pilot A about noon on 20 May 2005 repeating his willingness to take part in an off-the-record interview at a venue suitable to both parties and subject to the inclusion of a witness of Pilot A’s choosing.


 1068  Senator McLucas: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to general aviation matters in North Queensland:

(1) Is it correct that at least one set of allegations against Trans Air, made verbally by a third pilot known as Pilot C, was investigated a matter of months before the Lockhart River crash and that ‘nothing was found’.

(2) Can the Minister confirm that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) investigated a series of allegations made by Pilot C about the operating practices of Trans Air such as ‘inappropriate procedures, not appropriate training and checking arrangements for pilots and inexperience of co-pilots’.

(3) Is it correct that Pilot C contacted CASA three times before the Lockhart River crash with serious allegations against Trans Air and its Big Sky operations in New South Wales.

(4) Can the Minister confirm that interview notes taken by CASA in September 2004 state that the pilot ‘expressed his concerns clearly and sincerely. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of his information’.

(5) Can the Minister confirm that the interview notes contained the following entries or issues:

(a) ‘A pilot told to fudge the figures on a load sheet of an overloaded aircraft’;

(b) ‘the interviewed pilot was faced with attempted coercion when told of other pilots’ agreement to fly an aircraft with unserviceable landing light/s when the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) does not permit operation of the aircraft at night without landing lights and told to fly the aircraft’;

(c) ‘poor training of first officers illustrated by them not knowing how to complete an aircraft walk-around’;

(d) ‘a Maintenance Controller does not encourage the writing up of aircraft defects’;

(e) ‘a ‘cost cutting culture’ articulated by describing an event that had an aircraft descending below steps of an instrument approach in order to save time by not flying overhead the airfield’;

(f) ‘as Captain he was required to take control of the aircraft from first officers on a number of aircraft landing occasions. This event description was to re-enforce a statement that he thought the training of first officers was very poor’;

(g) ‘he alluded to the possibility of false experience being recorded’;

(h) ‘when joining the company he had no access to regulatory documentation because the computer was down’;

(i) ‘no CAO 20.11 training given’;

(j) ‘no dangerous goods training given’;

(k) ‘no instrument rating check undertaken/or check of instrument proficiency before revenue operations’;

(l) ‘no examination of aircraft knowledge prior to being released to line operations’;

(m) ‘described his check and being released for line operations as being minimal. He expressed he had expected more checking’;


 (n) ‘during a CASA line check (audit), no check of aircraft documentation or licences by the CASA Freedom of Information’; and

(o) ‘loading of passengers when the ‘offside’ engine is still running (Metro Operation)’.

(6) Did Pilot C also state that Trans Air’s Big Sky Express operation had a cost-saving culture that extended to short-cutting.

(7) Will the Minister provide full details of the investigation conducted as a result of Pilot C’s allegations.

(8) Is it the case that despite finding no evidence to sustain the allegations, CASA increased its surveillance of Trans Air, and then carried out a “fairly fulsome audit” of the airline earlier in 2005.

(9) Can the Minister give precise details of the ‘fairly fulsome audit’, and state whether it covered the same ground as the earlier investigation.

(10) Has Trans Air conducted ground school for the pilots it has trained on its larger aircraft such as the Fairchild Metroliner and Cessna Citation types over the past 2 years; if so, who conducted the ground school, and how extensive was it.

(11) Can a copy be provided of the written examinations completed by these pilots and required to be kept on file by the airline.

(12) In relation to the allegations made to CASA and the ATSB about Trans Air’s performance in Papua New Guinea, is it correct that CASA does not monitor, or is not required to monitor, Australian-registered aircraft and Australian-licensed pilots when they are operating overseas.

(13) Is it correct that CASA is not required to be informed by its overseas counterparts in relation to Australian-registered aircraft and Australian-licensed pilots operating overseas when a regulatory breach is found to have occurred overseas, or when such a pilot is disciplined by his employer.

1069  Senator McLucas: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to general aviation matters in North Queensland:

(1) Is the Minister satisfied with the quality and level of monitoring and surveillance of the aviation industry in North Queensland, in particular with regard to safety, and the performance of those charged with air transport safety.

(2) Can the Minister detail any changes in personnel, or positions, in the North Queensland CASA office in the 3 months ending 9 August 2005.

(3) What action, if any, has the department, or any statutory authorities for which the Minister is responsible, taken to reduce North Queensland’s tragic record of 52 aviation fatalities in the past 5 years.

(4) Has the Minister, or his predecessor, requested any report, analysis, study or other information that might help to explain North Queensland’s aircraft fatality record; if so, can details be provided.


 1074  Senator McLucas: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—With reference to general aviation matters in North Queensland:

(1) Is the department investigating whether there was an incident in mid-March 2005 in which an aircraft flying the Cape York Mail Run landed at a closed and disused strip at Holroyd Station north of Cairns.

(2) (a) Was that incident reported; and (b) was it required to be reported to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau or any other transport authority.

(3) Is the department investigating: (a) whether the aircraft became bogged; and (b) if help from the nearby Strathmay Station had to be sought to lighten its load for take-off; if so, was that also reported, and was it required to be reported.

(4) Is the department investigating whether a second aircraft from the same company flew in to render assistance and became bogged, and was that also reported or required to be reported.

(5) What are the penalties for failing to report incidents of this nature.