Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Pilots have raised concerns that a pilot shortage may be putting the squeeze on training and jeopodising airline safety.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Airlines say safety is their number one priority, but pilot training may be putting that at risk.
The worldwide pilot shortage and low-cost airlines are putting the squeeze on carriers and pilots say that the pressures are being passed onto them.
In the past few years, commercial co-pilots have been allowed to fly after just 200 hours in the air training experience, when previously they were required to clock up 1,000 hours.
Pilots and the independent Senator Nick Xenophon say the aviation industry must learn from a number of serious recent incidents.
Karen Barlow reports.
KAREN BARLOW, REPORTER: In this Melbourne fog on July 21st, 2007, the pilots on a Jetstar A320 made a botched attempt to land.
Alarms sounded in the cockpit as a plane came within 11-and-a-half metres of the tarmac before the landing was aborted.
BARRY JACKSON, PILOTS ASSOCIATION: In this particular incident there was obviously a misunderstanding and it became fairly close to a fairly major tragedy.
KAREN BARLOW: It was a routine emergency, but the two pilots were not trained properly on that particular aircraft.
Jetstar didn’t report the breach to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau until almost two months later.
BARRY JACKSON: Basically those sort of incidents have to be reported within 48 hours and that wasn’t done in this particular case.
KAREN BARLOW: The ATSB was satisfied by Jetstar’s explanation of the incident and the airline was never sanctioned.
Jetstar today stands by its safety procedures.
JETSTAR AIRWAYS, STATEMENT (female voiceover): “Jetstar has a proactive safety culture and as part of this we adhere to all ATSB reporting requirements.”
KAREN BARLOW: The Jetstar near miss concerns independent Senator Nick Xenophon and he wants a Senate inquiry into aviation training and safety standards.
NICK XENOPHON, INDEPENDENT SENATOR: There are some unanswered questions there and I think if we want to look at systemic issues relating to air safety in this country, then we need to revisit what happened on 21st July, 2007.
KAREN BARLOW: Pilots are wanted people. There’s a world-wide shortage now and over the next 20 years, an extra 22,500 pilots will be needed.
BARRY JACKSON: Well, airlines will try and fast-track their training, try and get them into the operational seat earlier then probably traditional-type training would involve.
KAREN BARLOW: First officers or co-pilots are only required to have 200 hours of in-the-air training at Jetstar.
That’s down from an industry standard of at least 1,000 hours in the sky several years ago.
Last year, United States legislators increased the minimum flight hours from 200 to 1,500 following a fatal crash.
Investigators blame the crash on pilot error and poor training.
In Australia Jetstar stands by its cadet pilot training program which began in June.
JETSTAR AIRWAYS, STATEMENT (female voiceover): “The training programs offered by Oxford Aviation and CTC are what have been employed for decades by some of the world’s leading airlines across Europe and Asia.”
KAREN BARLOW: Jetstar’s main competitor Virgin Blue also trains its own pilots.
VIRGIN BLUE GROUP OF AIRLINES, STATEMENT (male voiceover): “Our pilot training regimen is regularly benchmarked against international standards as part of our program of continuous improvements.”
KAREN BARLOW: Aviation is the still the safest form of transport in the world, especially in Australia. Industry experts say that reputation is always at risk from human error.
DICK MACKERRAS, AVIATION CONSULTANT: There are a lot of pressures, financial pressures. The low-cost carrier model, which is now endemic around the world, puts a lot of financial pressure on organisations which they tend to transfer unfortunately to their pilots.
BARRY JACKSON: We’d like to see a proper appraisal of where the industry is going because there is a line in the sand that we don’t wanna be mourning passengers on a commercial jet in this country because it could have been avoided.
KAREN BARLOW: The independent South Australian Senator will move for a Senate inquiry into the aviation industry when Parliament resumes in a fortnight.
Karen Barlow, Lateline.