Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jetstar cadet scheme under scrutiny

AUSTRALIA'S aviation safety watchdog has now put Jetstar under intensified scrutiny for its cadet pilot training scheme after another botched landing attempt.

The latest bungled landing occurred at Cairns airport on a flight from Sydney on November 3, when a cadet pilot selected the wrong flap settings, the airline confirmed.

When the captain, who was flying the Airbus A320, realised his cadet co-pilot had selected the wrong flap setting, he called for the landing to be aborted.

But the cadet compounded his mistake by choosing a wrong flap setting for a second time, upsetting the aerodynamics of the airliner for eight seconds.

Fortunately for all on board, the plane was at 1900 feet and the captain had time to recover the situation.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority yesterday shifted its vigilance up a notch. "There is now ongoing monitoring by CASA of the Jetstar cadet scheme to ensure it continues to meet the required standards," the agency said. "If circumstances change, CASA will take appropriate steps to ensure relevant safety standards continue to be met."

The Age believes substantial effort in the safety authority is now focused on Jetstar's operations, and the agency is prepared to act on the airline if necessary.

Jetstar's chief pilot, Captain Mark Rindfleish, said the crew "followed standard practice and discontinued an approach into Cairns after detecting incorrect flap settings". "Anyone at the controls of a Jetstar aircraft has the qualifications and skills to be there," he said.

But the incident has sparked more calls for an urgent investigation of the airline's fast-tracked pilot training scheme.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon, who initiated this year's Senate inquiry on pilot training and airline safety, called on CASA to launch an urgent investigation of the Melbourne and Cairns incidents.

"Two separate incidents just a few months apart would indicate that this needs to be investigated thoroughly," he said. "I've been approached by a number of Jetstar captains that have expressed concerns about the level of training of some of the cadets. "I'll be moving in the Senate, when Parliament resumes, for the inquiry to reconvene about these more recent incidents, to call CASA, the ATSB [Australian Transport Safety Bureau] and the Qantas group in relation to this."

The president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Barry Jackson, said: "When events occur on a regular basis then there's an issue.

"They grounded Tiger for these sort of things. It seems to me to be continuing events that point to pilot training and inexperience. "CASA's the one that needs to look seriously at these events."

Mr Jackson said experienced first officers were baling out of [Jetstar's parent] Qantas to be snapped up by the likes of Emirates and Qatar airlines, at a rate of one resignation every two days, leading to the recruitment of inexperienced pilots.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau was notified but it chose not to investigate the Cairns incident formally, after it was satisfied that cockpit alarms were not triggered and that the plane was still at a safe altitude.



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