Skytaders, operator of unusual aircraft, bestowed with unusual accidents

Skytraders VH-VHB.jpg

Skytraders C-212 VH-VHB, one of two in the carrier’s fleet, seen during better times. Photo: Skytraders

Sydney-based Skytraders operates some unique aircraft, including an Airbus A319LR with built-in stairs and two EADS CASA 212-400 aircraft equipped with skis (see above photo).

Unfortunately these unusual aircraft lend themselves to be operated in uncommon environments, producing some unusual–but thankfully non-fatal–accidents.

The most recent occurrence for Skytraders was when C-212 VH-VHB struck hard, rigid ice (“sastrugi” in polar parlance) when making a scheduled landing at Bunger Hills, 430km west of Casey station in Antarctica on 15 November. During the summer Antarctic seasons, Skytraders operates its two C-212s and single A319LR for the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

VHB’s left landing gear was displaced and fuselage buckling occurred, stranding the two pilots and two engineers (there was shelter available). The second C-212, VH-VHA, dropped tools and supplies for the crew to clear remaining sastrugi from the landing area so VHA could land and then collect data and photos for assessment.

The AAD says it is creating a repair scheme in consultation with Skytraders, but could not provide details. Skytraders did not respond to calls seeking comment. (Note: I don’t think Skytraders is being evasive. Employees said the relevant staff to comment were traveling during the week, and Skytraders has previously been open with operational incidents.)

Suffice to say, VHB will be out of service for some time, but to mitigate the loss the AAD has leased a Twin Otter from Canada.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau says it is not investigating the accident, explaining it has to concentrate its resources on cases that will most improve safety. That makes sense: there is limited flying in Antarctica and few C-212s in operation, plus the ATSB is busy the Qantas flight 32 incident.

In another incident for Skytraders, in May their A319LR taxied for 50-100 metres at the Cocos Islands with its built-in stairs  deployed. The problem was attributed to human error not properly closing the door and also a cockpit indicator saying the stairs were retracted when they were not.

Skytraders says its A319 is the only aircraft of its type operating in Australia with built-in stairs. Additionally the carrier says other operators have had similar faulty indicators with the stairs.

For anyone sleuthing, yes, the AAD has requested a tender for flights between Australia and Antarctica after the current tender, held by Skytraders, expires in 2012. The AAD says it wants
to achieve better value for money than its current arrangement by limiting the provision of the services to a Charter Period“.

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