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Preparation and communication: The necessities of safe air travel

(Please note, this matter is not currently being litigated in Australia)

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is Australia’s national transport safety investigator of civil aviation accidents, and incidents. By conducting investigations, the ATSB is able to identify safety issues based on occurrence trends, and suggest and implement safety action in order to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents. By reporting their findings and making recommendations to civil aviation authorities, the ATSB hopes to improve the overall safety of civil aviation and instill public confidence in the industry.

Periodically, the ATSB publishes an Aviation Short Investigation Bulletin which provides the findings of less-complex aviation investigations and highlights valuable safety lessons for pilots, operators, safety managers, and the wider aviation community. In its most recent issue, the ATSB features nine safety investigations spanning across four aircraft type categories including jet aircraft (scheduled passenger flights on well-known carriers such as Qantas, Virgin and Tiger Airways), turboprops, piston aircraft, and helicopters.  The subject of the investigations reported on include occurrences relating to separation assurance between two aircraft (the capability of two aircraft to maintain an acceptably safe distance from one another), incorrect configuration and distribution of flight plans to pilots and crew, fuel and electrical system related events, turbulence, proximity events, and loss of control.

While the facts of each incident are significantly different to one another, in five out of the nine reported events, the main contributor to the occurrence was a breakdown in communication. This was either due to insufficient communication between pilots or due to vital information not being received by flight crews in a timely manner.  In all nine situations, the ATSB highlights the importance of pre-flight preparation, situational awareness of other aircraft, and sufficient communication as a means of ensuring safe air travel.

The safety messages provided by the ATSB are not only for the benefit of pilots and crew members but also the general public. When a Qantas Boeing 767 aircraft encountered severe turbulence on a flight from Melbourne to Victoria in late 2013, one passenger sustained a serious injury; another passenger sustained a minor rib injury and a third passenger sustained a minor injury from an iPad. This particular incident should serve as a reminder to passengers that it is vital to follow instructions provided by flight crews, especially with regard to the stowing of carry-on baggage, as loose items can become dangerous during turbulence if they are not secured correctly.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 27, 2014.

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