Australia’s safety regulator has followed up a two-day audit of Regional Express (Rex) by confirming it has no current issues with the safety of aircraft operated by the nation’s biggest independent regional carrier.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has spent the last month looking at allegations by the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers’ Association about problems with the safety culture at the airline’s maintenance operations.
This culminated in the audit on July 4 and 5 of the Rex maintenance facility in the NSW regional town of Wagga Wagga to primarily investigate the airline’s safety management system.
Investigators were particularly interested in error reporting rates and the process for managing reports in accordance with the “just” culture system.
The ALAEA claimed the company bullied people who reported defects and this meant people were reluctant to report safety problems.
It cited an example where an engineer performing routine line maintenance reported corrosion on a propeller shaft was subject to a formal investigation into whether he followed the correct procedures.
It argued the move was counter to the Just principles and had created a circumstance where defects may not have been reported and aircraft could operate where there was a risk to safety.
Rex vehemently denied the claims and CASA got a similar response when it interviewed a number of randomly selected engineers during its audit.
“All of them said that they felt confident in reporting maintenance errors or defects and they indicated REX operated according to ‘just culture’ principles,” the regulator said.
It noted the airline had also provided a full briefing on the facts and circumstances related to an aircraft that featured in a video that generated claims in some media about “rust” problems.
The airline’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, later said what had been claimed as corrosion had been wiped off with a solvent.
“On the basis of an assessment of information provided by Rex, CASA has no current concerns about the airworthiness of that aircraft,’’ the regulator said.
“CASA would take immediate action if there was any evidence of serious safety issues at REX, or with any unaddressed airworthiness concerns in relation to a particular aircraft.”
CASA said it was still assessing the information from the audit against “the requirements of applicable civil aviation legislation” and it had expedited the completion of a report on its findings.
Rex welcomed the confirmation its planes were safe, describing the union allegations as “scurrilous” and based on the claims of a disgruntled engineer.
It attacked some media outlets for attempting to inflame the situation and warned of serious consequences to regional communities dependent on air travel had it been forced to cease flying.
“Even though CASA is cognizant of, and has acknowledged, the effectiveness and high standards of Rex’s Safety Management System and Safety Culture (having audited Rex extensively five times since February 2018), CASA should be given due credit for expending enormous effort and resources, including conducting yet another audit, to carefully examine the allegations of the union and the media,’’ it said.
“Once the media started undermining Rex’s safety credibility in public, CASA acted swiftly to gather all the facts and evidence to make a considered determination in order to promptly reassure the public of the safety of Rex’s operations.”
The airline, which operates 50 Saab 340 aircraft on some 1500 weekly flights to 60 destinations, said it now considered the matter closed.