Thursday, March 31, 2011

Toughen up, tired Jetstar pilots told

An amazingly dangerous attitude. Tiredness greatly reduces alertness and can lead to serious error

A SENIOR Jetstar manager told pilots to "toughen up princesses" after complaints about fatigue on the budget airline's Perth to Singapore route. The instruction was contained in an email admonishing the airline's pilots, tabled in a Senate committee hearing today in which Qantas and Jetstar executives were questioned about safety standards. In it, pilots were told: "Aeroplanes don't make money sitting on the tarmac, they need to keep flying".

The January 7 email opened with the warning: "If you are easily offended then delete this email and read no further. Toughen up princesses! You aren't fatigued, you are tired and can't be bothered going to work."

However the author, a Perth-based pilot manager, admitted that overnight flights on the Perth to Singapore route were a "horror shift". The pilot manager acknowledged in the email that when he flew the shift, he operated below his normal standards.

"By trial and error, I have worked out what works for me so I can manage the shift," he said. "I can say I hate the shift and I definitely don't operate to my normal standard. I am tired throughout the shift, feel terrible, but I would not call it fatigued."

He concludes the email by saying he was not speaking as a base pilot, but "as a pilot who hasn't lost touch with reality and who wants to make this Perth base work".

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the surprise tabling of the email, by South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon, made it difficult for management to respond properly to the issues raised about its airline subsidiary. He said it was in the airline's interests to hear safety complaints, but those with information should go through the proper channels.

"That document should be sent to the regulator for the regulator to have a look at it," Mr Joyce said. "That's what should be happening with the process. And we are very happy to cooperate with the regulators - we do - to have a look at these issues when they arise."

Jetstar chief executive Bruce Buchanan said there was an incorrect perception the airline pushed its crews to the limit. “Our pilots are working on average, 18 hours flying a week, where you have a compliance maximum of 25 hours a week," he told the Senate's rural affairs and transport committee. “I look at the averages of worked hours across all the bases and I can't see any of them getting close to the limits at the moment."

Senator Xenophon said the email raised serious concerns over safety and the management culture at Jetstar. “Fatigue is a serious issue and can have an impact on the ability for pilots and crews to effectively navigate a plane," he said. "The intimidation in this email is alarming and indicates that there may be a bullying culture among pilots."

But Mr Joyce said he was concerned the email was being taken out of context. "I'm worried about this note that we've got now from a pilot, that this is not a misrepresentation." he said.

Mr Joyce said the Qantas group took a comprehensive approach to fatigue management to ensure pilots were fresh and ready to fly. But he said pilots also had a duty to manage their own levels of tiredness. "It's up to the pilot to identify ... if he's not comfortable and shouldn't be flying. And we rely on that as well as the system," he said.

Jetstar was last year forced to reinstate a whistleblower pilot who was sacked for airing his concerns about falling safety standards. Joe Eakins was fired from the budget airliner in late November after speaking out about a range of cost-cutting measures which he believed compromised safety, including a push towards using foreign-based cabin staff.

He was given his job back and apologised to his employer in an otherwise confidential out-of-court settlement. "I never intended my comments to bring into question the sound and proactive safety culture that exists within Jetstar," Mr Eakins said.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Qantas flight turns back due to smoke

A Perth-bound Qantas flight has returned to Adelaide after smoke entered the cabin from a malfunctioning oven. The Boeing 737 carrying 124 people turned back on Saturday in line with the airline's safety policy, a Qantas spokeswoman said. 'It was just smoke coming from the oven,' she told AFP. 'The crew turned the oven off but we took the plane back to Adelaide.'

The incident comes just days after a cockpit fire caused by an electrical fault forced a Qantas Airbus A330-200 bound for Manila from Sydney to make an unscheduled landing. In that instance, the pilots used an extinguisher to douse the fire and diverted to the nearest airport at Cairns where they landed safely.

Last November the airline temporarily suspended flights of its Airbus A380 superjumbos after an engine on one exploded after taking off from Singapore, damaging the plane.

Then in January a flight bound for New York made an unscheduled stop in Fiji after the Boeing 747 developed a problem with a fuel valve supplying one of its engines.

Soon after, another Boeing 747 suffered mid-air mechanical trouble after taking off from Bangkok and was forced to return to the Thai capital.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grounded Jetstar flight leaves stranded passengers fuming at Adelaide airport

HUNDREDS of Jetstar passengers were left stranded at Adelaide airport last night after a crew member fell ill. Flight JQ775, scheduled to depart Adelaide to Melbourne at 9.40pm was delayed and then cancelled. The ill crew member was not a pilot.

Many passengers missed international transfers in Melbourne.

Jetstar gave many passengers hotel vouchers and a flight booking for early today, but one passenger said they were very angry. "There must be over 200 people here," he said. "They are all really p...ed off."

A Jetstar spokeswoman said it was rare for a flight to be cancelled by a sick crew member. "It is very unusual," she said. "We have arranged replacement flights for early (Saturday) morning and have overnighted passengers who require accommodation."


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Qantas plane catches fire during flight

And it was nearly an hour before it could land

A QANTAS Airbus flying from the Philippines to Sydney has made a forced landing in Cairns after a fire broke out in the plane's cockpit.

Qantas says the Airbus A330 was forced to land in Cairns yesterday afternoon after an electrical fault caused smoke and small flames to appear near the left-hand windscreen of the cockpit.

The airline praised the pilots for reacting calmly to the fire, saying they showed quick thinking in donning oxygen masks and extinguishing the flames, while diverting the Sydney-bound flight to the nearest airport.

"There were no ill effects or injuries experienced by any of the 147 passengers or 11 crew, and all passengers were accommodated on other domestic services to complete their journey to Sydney," a Qantas spokesman said in a statement.

He said the pilots were being praised for "their calm response to the incident."

A 56-year-old passenger on board the flight described the incident as "scary." "There was a burning smell in the cabin that was very strong, and then the captain came over the loudspeaker and explained an electrical problem meant there was a serious risk of fire," the man told Fairfax media. "Later he explained flames had come back for a second time and they'd had to use a fire extinguisher in the cockpit. "Whenever you hear a pilot talk about a fire on a plane it's truly scary. Clearly the incident could have been catastrophic."

The passenger also praised the captain for his calmness during the situation. "He was very composed over the loudspeaker and when the plane landed he took the time to walk back and talk to the passengers," he said.

The fire broke out at 3.35pm (AEDT) and the plane arrived in Cairns 50 minutes later. Qantas said the incident would be investigated, and that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau had been notified.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Qantas overloaded aircraft

An overloaded Qantas Airbus A330 flying from Sydney to Hong Kong was a risk to flight safety, air investigators have found. A breakdown in the flow of paperwork controlling pallets of freight loaded on to the passenger aircraft led to it being overloaded, exceeding its maximum structural take-off weight by almost a tonne.

As a consequence, pilots configured the plane's flight computers for take-off based on the wrong data about the aircraft's weight and centre of gravity, which "had the potential to affect the safety of flight", investigators with the the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found.

A delay in notifying the error resulted in the aircraft making another 10 flights before maintenance checks for any damage were undertaken. The delay "presented a risk to the ongoing airworthiness of the aircraft", investigators said.

The safety bureau also trawled its records and found 28 freight load control incidents at Qantas in the 2½ years to last August, with the most recent being on July 8 last year. The investigation also uncovered a lapse of quality control at the airline.

Qantas had not reviewed its Sydney freight loading centre for quality assurance in the 22 months before the incident on March 6, 2009. These reviews were supposed to be carried out by senior Qantas management personnel every six months. The last review was conducted in May 2007, investigators found.

"The investigation could not discount that, had those quality assurance reviews been carried out, this occurrence might have been avoided," the bureau's investigators said.

No damage was subsequently found to the aircraft and Qantas has since made changes to the way it loads and checks freight into aircraft, reports incidents and has revamped its staff training, the bureau said.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jetstar pilots 'afraid to report risks'

JETSTAR pilots are too afraid to speak out about dangerous overtime and fatigue risks because they are worried about losing their jobs, a Senate inquiry has heard.

An internal Civil Aviation Safety Authority audit of fatigue management at Jetstar, from May 2010, found there was a lack of evidence to demonstrate Jetstar was making appropriate fatigue risk assessment. The audit was tabled by independent senator Nick Xenophon yesterday at a committee hearing into pilot training and airline safety.

The report found "based on feedback from operational personnel, it is not considered Jetstar management has created a culture of open and honest reporting of fatigue risk. "There remains reluctance from a number of flight crew to report fatigue risk and/or to say no to an extension of duty based on the perceived punitive nature of taking such actions."

The vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Captain Richard Woodward, said there was "a culture of fear and intimidation at that airline". He said AIPA had received dozens of complaints from Jetstar pilots about dangerous working hours, including short turnaround times. All refused to go on the record because they didn't want to lose their job.

CASA director of aviation safety John McCormick said issues in the internal audit had been satisfactorily dealt with, and tabled a subsequent CASA report into fatigue risk at Jetstar, which found fatigue management was reactive and a more proactive system of fatigue risk was in a concept stage.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said safety was the airline's priority and CASA regularly undertook such audits. He said the audit "delivered no formal request for corrective action into areas assessed". "Jetstar is currently formalising its integrated fatigue risk management system in accordance with best practice."


Jetstar flight crew feared death

A JETSTAR flight crew feared for their lives late last year after their plane came close to crashing during a tropical storm over Darwin, a Senate inquiry has heard. The hearing was told that the A320 passenger jet would not climb and stalled for several minutes.

A Qantas A380 captain, who gave evidence on behalf of the pilot of the Jetstar plane, told the inquiry that a report given to him of the incident told how the pilot and first officer were convinced they would crash.

Richard Woodward, the A380 captain representing the Australian International Airline Pilots' Association, said it was strange the Australian Transport Safety Bureau had closed an inquiry given that the incident was so serious.

"He (the pilot) was quite concerned and thought that they were going to die because of the severe weather event. It (the plane) actually stopped climbing for quite some period of time," Capt Woodward said. "The storm was directly overhead and they (the pilots) couldn't have seen it," he said.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Qantas can't even do business class well

Like Chris Heenan (Traveller, February 19), I too had a horror trip on Qantas in business class on a flight from Melbourne to London. The leg to Hong Kong was fine but after that the service was non-existent.

Breakfast was served immediately after we left Hong Kong. Then nothing. After about six hours I asked when the next meal would be served as my husband has diabetes and needed to take insulin an hour before he ate. The answer was it would be some time but that snacks were available. So I ordered two tuna sandwiches: one hour and two more requests later they arrived.

Finally, pre-dinner drink orders were taken. Those drinks never arrived. Dinner was a rushed affair and plates were removed speedily as we were descending.

Add to this the help requested to extricate a jammed remote control, which also never came, making a much-anticipated trip very disappointing. This was in business class. Our return trip in premium economy was more enjoyable.

- Wendy Dalton


Friday, March 4, 2011

Jetstar sorry for 'inhumane' treatment

JETSTAR has come under fire over its "inhumane" policies in three separate incidents following the devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Travellers Gillian Smith, Lee Stanish and an unidentified woman all say they were left horrified at their treatment at the hands of Jetstar staff.

Mrs Smith was booked to fly to Melbourne tomorrow to take a break from the aftershocks following the September 4 quake and visit her daughter Sarah, the New Zealand Herald reported. However after last week’s quake Mrs Smith decided to stay at her Christchurch home to look after it, planning to fly to Australia at a later date.

Her daughter took up the task of dealing with Jetstar as Mrs Smith did not have a phone or electricity, but had no luck with her battle for a refund. The airline demanded photographic evidence signed by authorities that passenger’s home was damaged in Christchurch quake before giving her money back, a move Ms Smith called "inhumane". “Seriously, do the police not have enough to do?” Ms Smith said.

Jetstar has apologised for the “mistake” and resolved the matter quickly after being contacted by the media.

Meanwhile Lee Stanish, from Auckland, has accused the airline of lacking compassion for wanting to charge her to transfer her tickets to a family who lost someone in the Christchurch earthquake, NZPA reported. Ms Stanish bought four Jetstar return tickets from Auckland to Christchurch for a family holiday between March 17 and 20.

After seeing the devastation of the quake the family decided to give the tickets to a family who needed to travel to Christchurch for a funeral. However she was told by Jetstar that it would cost $NZ50 ($36) per name change on the ticket, and an extra charge for the difference in price on the new tickets. "How does it work? I don't understand where the compassion is," she said. "Does it really matter who's sitting on the seats?"

However, Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said the rules were very clear when people bought tickets. He said Jetstar had been very accommodating over the quake, offering full refunds until Wednesday, and now offering vouchers. "We are being as flexible as we can."

Earlier this week a Wellington woman was told she would not get a refund for her Jetstar ticket bought to attend her graduation at the University of Canterbury next month. "I'm very frustrated because it's as a direct result of the earthquake, they should have included this into their earthquake consideration," she said.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Passengers in rage over new Qantas check-in

AIRPORT workers have been given panic alarms following a spike in confrontations with passengers following "issues" with Qantas' new automated check-in system. The Australian Services Union (ASU) said many passengers have been left frustrated and outraged when trying to use the new technology, which Qantas began trialling at Perth Airport in July last year.

The trial involved 100,000 of the airline’s frequent flyers, asking them to be more hands-on in the check-in process – such as weighing their own bags.

ASU Federal Secretary Linda White said there have been “a lot of issues” with the new technology, which has led to an increase in incidents involving disruptive passengers. “Passengers are pretty upset about the automated check-in, especially premium passengers as they don’t want to have to do things like carry their own bags,” Ms White said.

“Attacks on our members can range from being spat on or being verbally harassed, and there has been an increase in these kind of incidents since the automated check-in systems were introduced in Perth.”

Ms White said many passengers simply don’t understand how to use the system, which asks them to weigh their bags, pay for excess baggage charges and modify their booking information before checking-in luggage at the automated bag-drop point. “It’s very hard to figure out what to do,” Ms White said.

Qantas has denied the new check-in system is causing problems and said no staff members have used the new duress alarm. “Overwhelmingly, we are getting positive feedback from our customers and the time to check-in has been cut dramatically.”

Currently only about one quarter of the staff at the Perth terminal have the portable device, and the ASU says that every single airport worker should have one. Duress alarms are already installed behind the airport check-in counters, but this is of little use to those workers who aren’t behind the desks.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New mid-air engine drama for Qantas

QANTAS and Rolls-Royce are again at odds on another engine failure on one of the carrier's biggest planes. The shutdown, overflying Turkmenistan, followed a series of unsuccessful bids by the flight crew to keep the engine operating.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, investigating, said the decision to cut thrust was amid crew concerns on oil quality.

The same problem had another Qantas A380 limp into London on three engines two weeks earlier. Singapore Airlines, which also flies Rolls-Royce-powered A380s, has had this problem.

A Qantas spokesman said that an engineering inspection on both planes after they arrived in London had found an external line feeding oil to the engine was fitted incorrectly.