Safety reports into Tiger altitude busts covering up larger issues

Issuing a report after investigating an incident is a necessary part of aviation safety, but last week provided a delusional sense of conclusion.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau report in question was the preliminary investigation into the 7 June incident of Tiger Airways descending below minimum safe altitude, the first of two incidents last month. In brief, air traffic control cleared the Airbus A320 to descend to 2,500 feet but the crew, failing to notice an altitude discrepancy between ATC instructions, Jeppesen planning charts, and the flight management guidance and envelope system, descended to 2,000 feet. The aircraft landed safely at Melbourne.

After a similar incident at the end of June the Civil Aviation Safety Authority grounded Tiger, a measure that could be in place for the remainder of the month. The incidents are the straws that broke CASA’s back, so for some the official if preliminary report closes the chapter on how and why Tiger was grounded. The ATSB’s report into the second incident is due out this week, and will likely also be interpreted as “case-closed”.

If only.

We do not know all of the other straws on CASA’s back, and they were surely many but neither Tiger nor CASA are talking about them.

“We’re clearly in the process, we’re clearly addressing the issues that have been identified by CASA and in addition that to that we’re completing our own review. So, as I said before, it’s about a fresh start, it’s about addressing that anything that needs to be addressed,” new Tiger Australia chief executive Tony Davis, who previously looked after the entire group, told the ABC in an interview. Davis had a hollow message about working through problems, which he repeated over and over again without adding substance.

CASA has highlighted areas of concern like pilot training and maintenance control, but not divulged details. “There’s a range of areas which have been of concern to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority,” a spokesman said.

The details of those other straws will likely indicate that if Tiger satisfies CASA to resume operations, the carrier will not be able to do so with a full schedule, owning to problems with aircraft and/or crew. This possibility was put to Davis, who for an answer regurgitated his talking point. “Well, as I say, right now we’re undertaking a comprehensive review of the operation.”

No doubt the details, if ever known, will not reflect well on Tiger, but may also be damning for CASA, who permitted serious problems to go unchecked until only recently.

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