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An aviation researcher, writer, aviation participant, pilot & agricultural researcher. Author of over 35 scientific publications world wide.

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General news reports

The following are news reports from newspapers and other sources. These are attributed to the source and the most recent is first:


Passengers, industry full of praise for Rex crew after mishaps

I have been associated with Regional Express (Rex) since its launch in 2004 and would like to respond to some of the claims made in this section last week.

Rex has an excellent safety record, having flown a million hours without a single flight-related injury. Rex’s aircraft are much more reliable than all other regional operations of the major carriers in Australia. This is demonstrated in its on-time performance being the best for more than a decade.

Further, with proper maintenance, age is not a root cause for safety incidents. The only other recorded similar event to that of Flight ZL768 (when the propeller separated) was in 1991, when US carrier Comair’s aircraft also landed safely after a separation of its propeller. The Comair aircraft was only two years old. Similarly, the Qantas A380 involved in a near catastrophic accident in 2010 was only two years old.

In last week’s article, (‘‘Rex pilots narrowly avoided air disaster’’, 31/3), Byron Bailey said “the pilots took quick action to shut down an overheating engine”. Mr Bailey said the crew was shutting down the engine because gearbox problems were causing the temperature to rise.

Rex can confirm the engine was not overheating at any stage. Nor was its gearbox its “weak link”, as Mr Bailey said. This allegation is the view of an individual who is not a subject matter expert. There are no statistics to support such a view.

The allegation about the engine overcoming the drag inside the gearbox is also a figment of imagination. The General Electric engine fitted to the Saab 340 is a free power turbine and, as such, the engine and gearbox have no mechanical connection.

Further, I challenge Mr Bailey’s statement that, had the pilots not taken action to shut it down, the propeller would have “been spinning faster and it could have impacted the fuselage”. This allegation is emotive and unfounded. The propeller separated only when the first officer selected fuel off, which also feathers the propeller.

We wish to set the record straight on allegations on the industrial relations with the crew. Rex pilots are paid in accordance with an enterprise agreement and are rostered in accordance with Civil Aviation Order flight and duty time limitations. Overnight allowances have always been paid to Rex pilots in accordance with the EA.

Finally, Rex did not suffer three incidents during March. Rex experienced two unrelated events. The first was the propeller separation on Flight ZL768 on March 17. The second was engine failure on Flight ZL821 on March 23. In the third incident, the crew initiated an air return because they believed they could hear an air noise associated with the ground communications hatch. The flight did not have any other apparent issues. Engineers carried out a thorough inspection including ground runs and no fault was found. The aircraft returned to service.

In summary, every carrier in Australia and in the world suffers from similar safety events occasionally as this is an inevitable part of flying, no different from driving. What is important is the in-built redundancy of the aircraft, which allows safe operations despite component failures. These safety features have resulted in flying being much safer than driving in terms of injuries per kilometre travelled.

The Saab 340 is designed to be able to climb, cruise and land safely on only one of its two engines. This was demonstrated in the events cited in the article to the extent that many passengers said they did not feel any difference when the aircraft landed uneventfully after the propeller separation.

The other important contributor to flight safety is crew flying standards. The two events demonstrate the high quality of training of Rex crew such that normal landings are achieved even under rare and challenging circumstances. Rex has received universal praise from the aviation world for the calm, professional and effective actions of the crew after the separation of the propeller.

John Sharp is deputy chairman of Rex and a former federal transport minister.


Rossair Cessna crash stirs talk of live engine failure training

Having trained on jet aircraft 48 years ago, I have limited experience on non-jet aircraft, but a number of my aviation colleagues, some who have flown the Conquest, have proffered their opinion of the crash and on twin propeller aircraft engine failure training.

Engine failure training on all medium and larger jet aircraft is done in simulators. The V1 (decision speed) cut can be practised at length with no danger to the pilots. A jet aircraft simply requires the pilot to keep straight with the rudder after the engine failure, maintain level wings with aileron, and climb away at V2 (takeoff safety speed) after retracting the undercarriage. Indeed all jet aircraft are required to achieve a safe climb gradient on one engine. The pilot really just needs to put in a big boot full of rudder and attending to the engine failure can be done at a safe altitude.

Twin engine propeller-driven aircraft have additional problems. Unlike the one thrust lever on a jet engine, they have three levers per engine — fuel, propeller and power — and the engine has to be attended to immediately upon a failure.

The propeller, if not feathered quickly after an engine failure, can produce so much drag that the aircraft may be uncontrollable. One of my colleagues pointed out that if you simulate engine failure to idle instead of setting zero thrust then the drag from the propeller can be almost uncontrollable. In a real engine failure situation, aircraft such as the King Air have auto feather of the propeller, and the Conquest has negative torque sensing and after the pilot carries out immediate action successfully can then climb away in the Conquest at blue line speed (best rate of climb).

The problem I see in asymmetric training in propeller driven aircraft is that the pilot has no margin for error and needs to be almost perfect in flying technique and in performing the immediate engine shutdown drills and retracting the undercarriage. As well, these aircraft are certified to a lower performance requirement regarding climb gradient on a single engine after takeoff. The Cessna Conquest has ample power, but at lower speeds just after takeoff full power may not be able to be used if the full rudder authority is insufficient to keep straight and loss of control may result.

It does not matter how experienced a pilot may be — it does not preclude you from making a mistake. Several of my colleagues have pointed out that there have been more crashes due to practice training of engine failure on takeoff than have occurred through real engine failures on takeoff.

An airline operating the Conquest can use a King Air 200 simulator for emergency practice where the Civil Aviation Safety Authority approves it — without the risk associated with a real takeoff.

Byron Bailey is a former RAAF pilot and B777 captain, and now flies corporate jets.


Adelaide Advertiser

Three dead after light plane crashes near Renmark Aerodrome in the Riverland

ROSSAIR’s chief executive has defended the company’s safety record while grounding its fleet indefinitely after three of its pilots were killed in a plane crash near Renmark Airport.

The men, all experienced pilots from Adelaide, were named as chief pilot Martin Scott, 48, Civil Aviation Safety Authority officer Stephen Guerin, 56, and retraining pilot Paul Daw, 65.

The nine-seat Rossair charter plane, a Cessna Conquest, was on a check and training flight when disaster hit.

An SA Police search party found the plane wreckage about 4km west of the aerodrome at 7.10pm Tuesday night.

An aerial shot of the wreckage from the fatal Rossair plane crash, near Renmark. Picture: Dylan Coker
An aerial shot of the wreckage from the fatal Rossair plane crash, near Renmark. Picture: Dylan Coker

The Rossair aircraft had a clean maintenance record prior to its final flight on Tuesday afternoon, the charter company said.

Chief executive Warren Puvanendran flew into Adelaide on Wednesday and fronted media at the company’s Adelaide Airport base shortly after.

Mr Puvanendran said maintenance logs for the Cessna Conquest, which had been operational for 37 years, showed it had not had any mechanical issues in the past.

“From our point of view, there is nothing that would indicate that (there had been any mechanical issues),” he said.

“It’s been doing regular services for the last I don’t know how many years without incident.

“At this stage, we simply don’t know what happened.

Mr Puvanendran confirmed the plane had carried out multiple journeys on Tuesday morning but had a different crew on its final flight.

“The aircraft was on the ground for some time after its flights in the morning and then Martin and Paul took off in the afternoon,” he said.

Mr Puvanendran also said the company was confident its safety protocols were adequate.

“We’ve had an impeccable safety record,” he said.

However, Mr Puvanendran said the company had ceased flights indefinitely.

“As a precaution we have voluntarily grounded our operations,” he said.

“We will consult with CASA and the ATSB and we will make a decision (on when to recommence flights) based on their recommendations,” he said.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is investigating the accident with help from the Major Crash Unit, released a statement this morning, saying the plane crashed into the ground shortly after departure.

“The ATSB has deployed a team of five investigators to the accident site with expertise that includes aircraft operation and maintenance,” the statement said.

Tributes have been flowing for the victims. Mr Daw, who was due to retire from his role as chief pilot at an Adelaide-based flying school on Friday, was described by friends as “a legend” and “a great leader”, whose death was a “great loss”.

CASA this morning paid tribute to Mr Guerin, calling him “a true gentleman” who was passionate about aviation, meticulous about safety and widely respected”.

Rossair — which has now grounded its entire fleet — confirmed in a statement last night its 37-year-old aircraft had been involved in the fatal crash.

“The loss of company personnel was profound for the families concerned and all company employees,” the statement read.

“The aircraft, a Cessna Conquest, was on a training flight from Adelaide to the Riverland and return.”

A statement from Rossair described the tragedy as “a devastating blow for the families involved, the Company and the group’s 30 employees”.

Statement from Rossair this morning after the air tragedy at Renmark.

“Our staff are in deep shock at our loss and our deepest sympathies are with the family members concerned. This is an extremely sad event. Rossair will work with aviation authorities to determine the cause of the crash,” it said.

The company later released another statement, paying tribute to its two pilots Mr Scott and Mr Daw.

The incident is the worst plane crash in South Australia since eight people on board a Whyalla Airlines flight were killed when it crashed into the Spencer Gulf on May 31, 2000.

Aerial picture of the Rossair flight wreckage near Renmark. Picture: Seven News
Aerial picture of the Rossair flight wreckage near Renmark. Picture: Seven News
Rossair confirms its plane was involved in the fatal Renmark crash.

A line of inquiry may be whether the crew were undertaking exercises during the takeoff, which could have included a simulated engine failure. These exercises are banned on larger aircraft because they are regarded as too dangerous and because pilots can use simulators.

But the exercises are still done on smaller aircraft where the engine is retarded but not turned off.

Fullscreen

Three men dead after plane crash in SA

The Cessna Conquest 2 took off from Renmark Aerodrome after 4pm and the alarm was raised when the plane activated its emergency beacon about 4.30pm.

An SA Police spokesman confirmed a report by AusSAR (Australian Search and Rescue) of an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) aboard a Cessna Conquest.

Police Major crash investigators are at the scene and are expected to be relieved by air crash investigators early this afternoon.

Specialist investigators from Sydney and Canberra will join their Adelaide counterparts for the in-depth analysis.

A rescue helicopter landing at Renmark Aerodrome on Tuesday night. Picture: Murray Pioneer

Around 20 SES members helped search for the wreckage.

The last time three people were killed in an aviation accident in South Australia was when an ABC helicopter crashed while filming a documentary on flooding at Lake Eyre in August 2011.

Emergency personnel are using a dirt track to access the scene, which is in sparse scrub several kilometres off Santos Rd.

The activity log of the plane — which operates with the registration code VH-XMJ — shows that it completed several flights earlier in the day.

It first left Parafield Airport at 7.46am yesterday en route to Beverley uranium mine in the state’s Far North. It then flew back from Beverley to Parafield at 9.13am.

The plane then did another return trip from Parafield to Beverley, before making a five-minute flight from Parafield to Adelaide Airport.

It left Adelaide Airport bound for Renmark at 3.24pm.

The Renmark Aerodrome is unattended, without any air traffic controllers, and relies on pilots co-ordinating landing and takeoff between themselves.


SHOCKED REACTION

News of South Australia’s worst plane crash since the Whyalla Airlines disaster prompted widespread shock.

Premier Jay Weatherill said: “This is tragic news. I offer my heartfelt sympathies to the families of those who have died”.

South Australian Liberal Senator Anne Ruston, who was born in Renmark, tweeted her devastation.

“Horrible, horrible news. My thoughts & prayers with loved ones who have tragically lost family members tonight in a plane crash in Renmark,” she wrote.

Local MP Tim Whetstone said the news was devastating.

“Tragic news to hear three people have lost their lives in a plane crash in Renmark,” he said.

“My warm, heartfelt feelings go out to the family and friends of those involved,” he said.

A regular Adelaide-based Rossair traveller, Phil Egel, also expressed his shock and sadness.

“I fly regularly with this great SA charter company and many times on the plane that went down,” he posted on social media.

“RIP to those who have lost their lives, and sincere sympathies to their families and friends.”

Renmark Paringa Council mayor Neil Martinson said he did not believe the people involved were from the area but could not be certain.

He said training flights regularly came from Parafield, touched down at Renmark, then returned to Adelaide.

Air Services Australia which is responsible for Australia’s airspace management including aviation communications is aware of the disaster.

“We don’t believe there was any contact with air traffic control,” a spokeswoman said.

“We are aware of the incident and at this stage local police and the Air Transport Safety Bureau are investigating.”


HISTORIC COMPANY
Adelaide-based Rossair, established in 1963, is Australia’s second longest continually operating air charter company, after Qantas.

Its fleet ranges from 10-seaters to 30-seat aircraft and it recently branched out into charter tourism services.

Police and SES teams near the scene of the tragic incident. Picture: Greg Higgs

In Adelaide, flights depart from a private flight lounge at Adelaide Airport where passengers walk straight on to the tarmac.

The company specialises in the oil, gas and mining industries.

In November 2013, it merged with Air South, another South Australia-based charter company.

At that time Rossair’s Belinda Lindh told The Advertiser a focus on safety, cost efficiency and the ability to deliver personnel to outback areas comfortably and efficiently had been the philosophy behind Rossair’s success.

“Rossair had always tended to focus on the 10 seater market while Air South, with its larger 19 seat aircraft, had been more involved in regional fly in fly out operations with a larger number of personnel,” she said at the time of the merger.

“It made a lot of sense to bring the two businesses together formally to allow the group to be able to service both markets better.”