Investigators head to Regional Express as safety stoush continues

July 03, 2019
Rex cuts services
Photo: Rex.

Australia’s safety regulator is sending in a team to review maintenance operations at the nation’s biggest independent regional airline, Regional Express (Rex).

A team of Civil Aviation Safety Authority airworthiness investigators will visit the airline’s maintenance facilities in the regional NSW regional town of Wagga Wagga Thursday as part of an investigation into allegations of safety problems at the carrier.

“We’re continuing our investigation of the allegations and as part of that we’re going to be doing an onsite visit at the Rex heavy maintenance facility at Wagga,’’ CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told AirlineRatings

“It’s a normal part of CASA investigations to do onsite visits.”

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The move comes as a bitter argument has developed between Regional Express and the association representing small aircraft owners over a union call to ground the carrier.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association lodged a 17-page complaint with CASA in May alleging that a culture of intimidation and bullying meant employees were reluctant to report defects on aircraft.

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 of aviation and had created a circumstance where defects may not have been reported and aircraft could operate where there was a risk to safety.

Rex has vehemently denied the claims and says the furor, which affected its share price, is inspired by a dispute with the union and a disgruntled engineer.

It also hit back at the Airport Owners and Operators Association for what it says are reckless and irresponsible remarks questioning why CASA had not acted sooner.

AOPA executive director Ben Morgan during an interview on ABC radio called for the union report to be made public and for assurances from CASA to about whether “things were being done properly” inside REX.

Describing the allegations as troubling, he said there seemed to be a difference in the way CASA treated the airline industry compared to the way it treated smaller operators.

He accused the regulator of being unwilling to jump into the REX issue.

“I feel that it really is incumbent on CASA at this point in time, given the magnitude of the allegations, that they do come forward and that they offer some explanation to the Australian public of the safety status of allegations and provide an assurance as to whether the aircraft are, or are not safe in their current form,’’ he said.

CASA’s Gibson said it was a matter of evidence and facts and the authority needed to look at allegations deeply, carefully and thoroughly.

He said if there were immediate safety issues, the authority would take immediate action as it had when it banned the 737 MAX from Australian skies, or it did some years ago when it grounded Tiger Airways.

Rex responded by labeling Morgan’s remarks as “reckless and irresponsible”.

The regional carrier said it had undergone five extensive CASA safety audits since February, 2018, and these had looked at all aspects of its safety management system and aircraft maintenance.

It provided a number of quotes from CASA correspondence indicating the regulator was satisfied the airline was meeting its safety obligations.

“It is inconceivable that Rex’s safety culture could have so sharply deteriorated as alleged in just one month or that CASA would have failed to pick up troubling signs of Rex’s safety culture in over two years of intense scrutiny,’’ it said.

“Rex believes that our safety management system, including our safety culture, is second to none in Australia.”