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Safety compromised: unions

Saturday, 2nd January, 2010

The aircraft engineers union said if changes to maintenance laws are made then plane passengers, including those on REX and the RFDS, will have their safety compromised. The Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association's secretary Steve Purvinas said yesterday that changes proposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to aircraft maintenance legislation would mean training for people who fix aircraft would be diminished. Mr Purvinas said if draft maintenance regulations were accepted, someone with as little as three weeks' experience could be changing the wheels of REX and Royal Flying Doctor Service planes and conducting other critical aircraft maintenance and checks. "What we might see is REX deciding that they are going to start allowing baggage handlers and pilots to change the wheels on an aircraft," he said. "They might dislodge some cabling in the area of the wheel (which could get tangled up) with some of the equipment and they might not understand that. "Safety will be reduced and not only on larger aircraft but also on the smaller aircraft that are flying in regional and outback Australia." The new category A maintenance licence under CASA's revised rules could allow people with just three weeks' training to be sent on to the tarmac to fix potentially critical aircraft parts, Mr Purvinas told the Sydney Morning Herald. "Category A is a licence for people who aren't licensed to carry out the inspections," he said. "You've got people who don't have the experience who are going to be given these qualifications on a plate." Mr Purvinas said now to be a licensed engineer and say an aircraft is safe to fly you had to have "a minimum four-year apprenticeship with around 20-odd post apprentice exams and thousands of hands on hours." He said CASA wanted to cut the 10-year lead up period it takes for someone to do that "so that someone can come in and instead of knowing everything about the aircraft, knowing the background and understanding on aircraft - you can grab a bloke off the street and teach that bloke to change a wheel - and say from now on you're going to change all the wheels. "Baggage handlers will do a three-day course and now they'll change all the wheels."

Mr Purvinas said the new regulations would also see pilots carry out essential and critical maintenance to aircraft. "As it stands now on REX the pilots already walk around the plane for a final check to see that it's all looking good," he said. "But that was backed by a full check by a fully qualified aircraft engineer.

"CASA wants pilots to be able to carry out maintenance on aircraft." Mr Purvinas said this would severely compromise safety. "When a pilot gets sick we don't call in an aircraft engineer and say ‘you know a fair bit about planes, you can fly this sector'. "We have grave concerns. "If they rubber stamp them it will be a very sad day in our industry and for the travelling public of Australia. As time goes by we will see safety standards drop." The Engineers Association has submitted a 37-page objection to CASA regarding the news laws which are due to come into effect in November 2010.

The SMH reported thata spokeswoman for Qantas said the regulations were likely to take a number of years to implement, but that they were designed to bring Australia into line with maintenance rules in Europe. CASA said many of the draft regulations were already in place in Australia and that they category A licence reflected European practices. "This is based on safety standards that have existed in Europe for many years. "This is not something that we've created uniquely. We would not be doing this if we believed that safety would be in any way reduced."

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