Australian commuter airline Regional Express (known as REX) has just received a clean bill of health tick after a safety audit by aviation regulator CASA. The audit came after reports were made of maintenance and safety issues at the airline’s Wagga Wagga maintenance base.
The safety audit, conducted last week, should help put to bed speculation regarding a poor safety culture at the airline. REX certainly hopes so. In a media release the airline said:
“With the announcement of CASA’s definitive findings, Rex considers the matter to be closed, and Rex’s management will now be able to focus its attention exclusively to providing our passengers with a safe and reliable air service.”
Who are REX?
When Ansett collapsed in 2001, it was not only the Ansett brand that ceased to exist. Ansett was the parent company of several smaller Australian airlines, including commuter airlines Hazelton and Kendall.
In the wake of Ansett’s collapse, these two airlines were purchased and merged to form REX
REX now flies 50 Saab A340 aircraft to over 60 regional and rural destinations. It provides an extremely valuable service to these communities that are usually overlooked by the big players, Qantas and Virgin Australia.
In the 2017/18 financial year, REX declared a profit before tax of AUD$25 million.
Safety issues at REX
According to REX, an engineer at their Wagga Wagga base took allegations of safety shortcuts and sloppy maintenance to his union, the Fair Work Commission, and CASA.
REX came out swinging, saying its safety culture was “second to none” with REX’s Chief Operating Officer Neville Howell calling the allegations and their subsequent leaks to the media baseless, cowardly and malicious.
CASA has confirmed that they have no issues with the safety and airworthiness of REX aircraft.
Photos of REX aircraft parts leaked to media that purported to show signs of corrosion were also discredited by CASA. The parts were simply due for regular cleaning and were not corroded.
Australian aviation has a long and rather inglorious history of employee militancy and bolshie union interference. The involvement of the engineer’s union in the allegations and the leaking of information to media suggests a level of employee unrest was driving this complaint of poor safety at the airline.
REX called the complainant a “disgruntled engineer”.
Incidents at REX
That said, REX aircraft have been involved in a couple of well known incidents which can fuel allegations of safety and maintenance issues at the airline.
In March 2017, A REX flight from Albury to Sydney carrying 16 passengers and three crew was forced to make an emergency landing in Sydney after the plane lost a propeller. No one was hurt. The propeller was later found in a National Park south west of Sydney. The investigation found the cause was a fatigue crack in the propeller. It lead to several aircraft been grounded and checked over and caused REX to add additional inspection steps to its regular aircraft maintenance schedule.
Ten years ago, a medevac flight operated by REX subsidiary Pel Air had to ditch in the ocean just off Norfolk Island. Six people were aboard, including a seriously ill patient on his way to Australia. The plane was running out of fuel, it was late at night and there was heavy cloud cover. After several unsuccessful landing attempts on Norfolk Island, the plane had to ditch. Everybody got out, including the patient and others who suffered injuries in the landing. There were insufficient life jackets and no life rafts on board. Fortunately, they were all picked up by Islanders approximately 90 minutes after the crash.
But there was considerable fallout and a comprehensive ATSB investigation ensued.
Incidents like this, particularly the more recent propeller incident, mean allegations of safety issues at the airline tend to attract attention, whether the allegations are baseless or not.
This writer is a fan of REX. I have used them as number of times over the years to get to regional towns. I have never felt unsafe and will happily continue to use them along with the other 1.2 million passengers a year who obviously feel fine about flying REX.
With any luck, the release of the CASA audit findings will help draw a line under speculation about safety issues at REX.