Archive for 2015

DRA International becomes world business partner with ACI Asia Pacific

Sydney 19th Nov 2015.   DRA International announces today that it has become a world business partner of the Asia Pacific group of Airports Council International (ACI). ACI is the only global trade representative of the worlds airports. Established in 1991, ACI represents airports with Governments and international organisations such as ICAO, develops standards, policies and recommended practises for airports, and provides training to raise global airport standards.

More information on ACI can be found at its website

Wednesday, 18 November 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Aviation Safety v Commercial Profits

It is 17th July, 2015, the first anniversary of the destruction of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in Ukrainian airspace.  It is generally accepted that the aircraft was shot down by a missile fired from the ground by one of the combatants, although Russia claims that it was a Ukrainian fighter aircraft with an air to air missile.  Whatever is finally proven, it is a criminal act which must be properly investigated and the perpetrators condemned.
But who is responsible in the end?  The man who fired the missile, the politicians who are prolonging the war on the ground, the Ukrainian government for failing to close their block of airspace to civil airlines, the airline itself and the Captain of the aircraft for having decided to fly through that airspace in the full knowledge that there was a war in progress??   Who should be held responsible?
Perhaps it is a flawed system of aviation safety being challenged at every turn by commercial considerations and immense financial pressures.
What has this issue of air safety versus commercial pressures got to do with MH17 you may ask?   Well, actually quite a lot! 
Malaysian Airlines, like many others, would have been aiming to fly the shortest route between Amsterdan and Kuala Lumpur on that fateful night.  In the highly competitive world of airline operations, it aimed to reduce operating costs by minimising the amoung of fuel burned during the flight.  So it planned a direct flight which took it over the Ukarainian territory.  They had been told it was safe to fly above 32,000 feet (considered to be above the height that any weapons known to be in use in the conflict, could reach).  Other airlines also followed the same route before and after the shoot down occurred.  However, several airlines chose to avoid the airspace altogether and flew around Ukrainian airspace, so adding some time to their flight plan and burning more fuel which would add to the cost of their flights.
There have been cases of pilots being rewarded with cash bonuses by their airlines if they saved fuel.  This is an incentive to make decisions based on economic return rather than the best safety case.  It is an abhorrent concept and totally contrary to a proper safety culture.
It is well known in the airline industry that profit margins are slim.  The liberalisation of airspace over the last couple of decades and the relaxation of restrictions on the number of airlines allowed to operate has generated an intensely competitive market for the airline companies.  Witness the massive discounts offered by the airlines to attract your business.  It is now possible to fly between two destinations for significantly less than it would cost to drive your car over the same distance.
Some major national carriers have gone through very difficult economic times and you can see that almost all of the major airlines in USA have been through, or are currently operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Many airlines have been forced to take decisions and form alliances which would have been unthinkable in past years, because of competitie pressures and the removal of national government protection which they previously enjoyed.
Many new passengers, who have never flown before, have been attracted to the skies by lower cost travel and businesses are reducing their travel budgets by paying for the lowest available fares.
But the big question now is, should you feel safe when flying on a very low cost ticket or even a free one?   Do the same rules not apply to air travel as to other commodities?   Isn’t it true that you get what you pay for?
Airlines generally are categorised as “Legacy Carriers” being the old established and well known airlines of many nations which are usually the national flag carriers, and which provide a full in flight service with well experienced crews.  This experience and service usually comes at a higher price to the passenger.
And then we have the relatively new “LOW COST carriers” or LCCs or Budget Airlines.  Think about the names, “LOW COST” and “BUDGET”.  Doesn’t that tell you something about their culture?   Of course there is not a single low cost carrier in the entire World which would agree that it operates at anything less than the same full and professional safety standard required by international and national regulations and by the insurance companies.   But it worries me when an airline considers charging for a visit to the toilet during a flight, or when I have to pay a flight attendant for a blanket when the cabin temperature is set too low.
Pilots salaries are lower now than they were before the advent of LCCs and there are some airlines where the pilots pay for the opportunity to gain flight experience on their services[1].  How many passengers would know that, sometimes, their pilot is also paying for his flight?
But we have national aviation regulators, or civil aviation authorities to ensure that all the rules and regulations are followed and to protect the innocent passenger who does not know anything about the technicalities and actual dangers of flight.  Or do we?
It is an unfortunate fact that many of the Worlds’ national aviation regulators are lagging behind the industry and are not sufficiently resourced by their governments.  They are often short staffed, e.g. not enough air safety inspectors or air traffic management specialists and frequently the regulators technology is not up to pace with the industry, yet they are required to approve and certify air operations, pilots, engineeers, and many other critical operational matters which, in some cases, they are not properly qualified to do.
Some countries are hiring in, on a part-time basis, inspectors who are actually pilots with the airlines they are required to regulate.   Is it possible that there is a conflict of interest here?
Now turn back to MH17, QZ8501 and other similar incidents.
Are the pilots under pressure from the management of the company to save money “at all costs”?   Do they have to undergo an inquisition if they should divert or turn back from their assigned route for “safety reason”?  
The safety culture of any organisation, particularly an air operator, starts with the senior management and directors of the company.  The CEO and the Chairman are responsible for ensuring that a good safety culture should permeate the entire organisation.  But, in the reality of the commercial World we live in, is this entirely possible?    Often the directors and senor management of airline businesses may not be aware of the costs of having an accident.
It soon becomes apparent, if they have an accident that it is much more expensive and disastrous than the costs of enuring that safety is the first priority.
If the bottom line is the most important issue for the management, it is likely to be communicated to the operations staff and pilots of the airline and they will feel pressured to make decisions based on financial considerations rather than pure safety considerations.  Some airlines even try to take the safety decision from the pilots and require them to radio their operations staff for approval to divert or turn back.
Should MH17 have diverted and flown an extra hour to ensure it was clear of the war zone?   Should the pilots of Air Asia QZ8501 have turned back to Surabaya when they saw the massive storm system on their path and so avoided placing the aircraft in a dangerous situation? 
In either of these cases would the pilots have still had their jobs the following day or would they have been penalised for adding to the costs of their flights?

Monday, 5 October 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Marking the Anniversary of MH17

Des Ross was interviewed by Russia today discussing the events since the shooting down of MH17. The interview was broadcast on 16th July 2015
Friday, 17 July 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Does Airport Safety make us more secure?

Airports have become much more than merely transportation hubs in the 21st century. They are crossroads of culture, citizenship, immigrant control, as well as being strategic military objects. Airports themselves are obvious terrorist targets: a large number of innocent people are gathered together in one place, they are more or less helpless, and mass media coverage is guaranteed.

It is a fact, however that most terrorist attacks on airports are headed off by forewarning, through intelligence. Only building airports in the shape and size of armoured buildings would prevent terrorist attacks, and this is not certain. It also seems unlikely that security measures can actually stop a determined terrorist from smuggling weapons on board an aircraft. In short, we need to relook at the whole issue of airport security.

Des Ross talks to Radio Sputnik on why we need to relook at the whole area of Airport Safety here.

Monday, 22 June 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Too much speculation on MH17

Des Ross is interviewed by Radio Sputnik. Recent weeks have seen much speculation about MH17, some of it increasingly far fetched.

 'There is too much speculation on the issue. The Investigation is still under way. People, including journalists and some politicians are talking about things they know nothing about. I think that if they say things that are untrue, they should be prosecuted the same way as the others.'

Listen to the interview here.
Sunday, 7 June 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Fast growing Asian aviation confronts safety challenges

Des Ross is quoted extensively in this article by Kelvin Chan for the Jakarta Post. The huge growth in carriers, particularly budget airlines, is increasing the risks for aviation safety throughout the Asia Pacific region.

More details in the article here
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Interim report on the loss of MH370. Gives rise to more Questions than Answers

The Malaysian authorities have just released an Interim Report on the loss of MH370, one year after its disappearance. The interim report can be downloaded from the website here.

However, it tells us very little that is not already known and does not offer any solutions to the mystery. Things that stand out in the report are:

• Confusion between KL and HCM air traffic control centres which lasted for much too long. It was only sorted out when Singapore came into the action.

 • Slow reaction to the problem when HCM took 20 minutes to start asking about MH370. International protocols demand that this should have happened TWO minutes after the expected transfer time from KL to HCM airspace.

 • Reading the transcript of coordination calls between both ATC centres shows lack of understanding between both units. Language problems may have been part of this. However, all controllers and pilots are required to pass tests in English language so that they all have a common language. 
Without passing this test, they cannot legally hold an ATC or pilot licence.

 • Transcripts between Ho Chi Minh City and Kuala Lumpur air traffic controllers reveal the following item:
2123:18 UTC [0523:18 MYT] KL ATCC Aaaa… never mind laa I wake up my supervisor and ask him to check again to go to the room and check what the last contact all this thing lah.
It would appear that 4 hours after MH370 disappeared, the supervisor in KL air traffic control was so relaxed about it all that he was sleeping.

 • This is the sort of search and rescue situation that should be the subject of periodic exercises to drill all parties in the correct procedures for such action. It appears that this has never happened as none of the personnel appeared to understand what was required of them.


• The report that the battery on the Pinger Locator transmitter was expired is serious. It indicates a break down in the MAH maintenance control system and brings into question whether there may be other omissions also. Is it a symptom of lax maintenance procedures at MAS??

 • Overall, the report is simply an INTERIM REPORT which gives rise to more questions than it answers. It also seems to provide a basis for legal action against the Malaysian authorities and the airline by family of passengers and crew who have been lost on MH370.
Sunday, 8 March 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Is Asia's pilot shortage putting passengers at risk?

Des Ross writes an article for CNN.

We're taking to the skies in ever-increasing numbers, and increased demand for commercial flights -- which is pushing down prices -- is creating a stranglehold that may ultimately lead to unsafe skies for all of us.

As a former pilot and current industry consultant, I have learned that nothing is ever the same on any day in aviation. Change is inevitable and learning never ceases. My colleagues and I thrive on this change and work with airlines and governments to manage it. The number of high-profile air accidents involving Asian carriers last year, and the attendant coverage that these tragedies generated, has placed a lot of focus on air travel in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet even as we reel from coverage of yet another accident, airlines are expanding rapidly, particularly in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East in order to meet unprecedented growth in passenger demand. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), passenger numbers rose almost 6% for Asia-Pacific in 2014, and a staggering 13% jump for the Middle East that year.

The big question is: Can carriers square this increase in demand with training commitments that don't compromise air safety and security?

Read more here
Posted by Des Ross

The stunning difference in the way Indonesia and Taiwan release important Aviation Safety Data

Let’s look at the two most recent air crashes.

Air Asia QZ8501 which crashed on 28th December 2014 in the Java Sea, Indonesia, and TransAsia GE235 which crashed in the Keelung River, Taipei, Taiwan on 4th February 2015.

QZ8501 has been more difficult to recover as it is in the Java Sea with rough seas and bad weather hampering the search. However, it is only in about 40 metres of water so that scuba divers are able to dive on the wreck. The Flight Data Recorder was recovered on 12th January 2015 and the Cockpit Voice Recorder was recovered on 13th January. Now, a full 4 weeks after recovery of the recorders, Indonesia is still only spoon feeding snippets of information to the World. The Indonesia authorities are holding the data from both recorders very close even the preliminary report on the accident is not being released and only going to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

TransAsia GE235 crashed in the Keelung River, Taipei at 14.55 local time. The river is shallow although flowing quickly and the wreckage was visible on the surface with some survivors. The rescue authorities were on the scene within minutes to rescue survivors and recover some bodies. Both the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder were recovered at about 16.00 that afternoon. Both recorders have already been examined and information was made available to the public and authorities the following day, 5th February. On 6th February, less than 48 hours after the crash some conclusions were already being made available and a full press conference was held to release details of the crash and initial investigation.

TransAsia has already commenced additional training for all of its aircrew in handling engine failures on the ATR72 and all other operators of ATR72 aircraft will be provided with full information on the issues which caused the crash so that they can take pre-emptive action to avoid any similar events from occurring.


So, the comparison must, inevitably be made about the way in which these two countries are dealing with the respective air disasters. Indonesia is treating the information as though it was part of a military operation and top secret to only be seen and examined by appropriate people with top level security clearance. This also happened when the Silk Air flight 165 crashed in the Musi River, Sumatra on 19th December 1997 killing all on board. Indonesia had to be literally forced to release information on the crash and caused a great deal of frustration to the international aviation community and to ICAO. This case with QZ8501 is slightly better but only because of the intense media coverage of the events.

Why do the Indonesian authorities feel that this crash data must be secret and kept from the general public and the aviation industry? Whereas the authorities in Taiwan have been open and honest with briefings being provided immediately that information was available, so enabling the airlines to take immediate corrective action by re-training their pilots.


The entire reason for thorough accident investigations is to discover the cause of the accident so that the industry can learn from the mistakes made which have caused the accident. The objective is to avoid future accidents of a similar type. The only way to achieve this is to provide the information to all concerned organisations and people so that they can understand the cause.

Taiwan has followed the international protocols and very quickly released the information which will allow aviation safety to be improved.

Indonesia, on the other hand, is acting in a way which is of no benefit to itself or the international aviation community and would do itself a great service by informing the World of the issues surrounding the crash of QZ8501 at the earliest possible time.
Saturday, 7 February 2015
Posted by Des Ross

ABC Interview on Aviation Safety

Des Ross was interviewed by Annabelle Quince for  Rear Vision on the ABC.

The past 20-30 years has seen an unprecedented expansion of air travel but in 2014 in our region alone we lost three passenger planes - two from Malaysian Airlines and one from Air Asia. So just how safe is air travel and has air safety increased over time?

For the transcript please click here

Thursday, 5 February 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Cultural Differences and the fate of Air Asia flight QZ8501


The Indonesian military has withdrawn from the search for more bodies and will not make further attempts to raise the fuselage of Air Asia flight QZ8501. Fascinating decision.

Seemingly based on the reality that it is rather difficult and the Indonesian military have determined that it is “just too hard” to get the fuselage to the surface and to recover it. No mention of bringing in a professional salvage company to do the job. We all know that there are many professional salvage companies which could do the job. Look at the re floating of the Costa Concordia, various submarines which have been raised, the raising of the “Mary Rose” a shipwreck several hundred years old from the bottom of the ocean off England, discovery of the Titanic, and the list goes on.

We seem to be watching a cultural difference at play here. If this had occurred in similar conditions in most of the developed countries of the World, no effort would be spared. The fuselage would be raised and as many bodies as possible would be recovered.

There are two major reasons for this. The broken fuselage will provide many answers to the big question of why the accident occurred. The recovery of the bodies would provide some measure of peace and closure to relatives. But in Indonesia, with all due respects to the Islamic beliefs of the country, life is much cheaper than in the Western World and, unfortunately, this measure of the value of life is in play here. This is similar in India where Hinduism is the major religion and way of life, but in common with all these highly populated and underdeveloped nations, an individual life is simply not valued as highly as in Western cultures.

Now, to turn to the issue of the preliminary accident report on QZ8501. Why do the Indonesian authorities feel that this must be secret and kept from the general public and the aviation industry? The entire reason for thorough accident investigations is to discover the cause of the accident so that the industry can learn from the mistakes made which have caused the accident. The objective is to avoid future accidents of a similar type. The only way to achieve this is to provide the information to all concerned organisations and people so that they can understand the cause.

Why does Indonesia have such a retarded view of such matters? Consider what happened when Silk Air flight 185 crashed into the river near Palembang in Sumatra in December 1997. The Indonesians treated this like a highly sensitive military secret of “Eyes Only” importance and it took months to obtain information on what had occurred. Finally the USA investigators released a totally separate report which differed significantly from the one released in Indonesia. This is contrary to all International protocols and is obstructive to the learning process which will allow aviation safety to be improved.

Indonesia can do itself a great service by informing the World of the issues surrounding the crash of QZ8501 at the earliest possible time.
Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Posted by Des Ross

What happens now after Malaysia declares MH370 was an accident?

What happens now that Malaysia has declared that flight MH370 was an accident? 

On January 29 2015, Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation made an announcement officially declaring that the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was an accident. Well, OK, this clears the way for some compensation to be paid to the relatives of crew and passengers, but on what basis has that declaration been made?

Answer: This has not been based on any technical facts but is purely a similar form of speculation which many others have been espousing, unless of course, the Malaysians know something that they have not released to the rest of the World.

Given the facts that we know, and the demonstrated incompetence of Malaysian authorities in the first hours and days after the disappearance of MH370, we have to wonder what will happen next. Is it now down to Australia to continue the search for MH370 or will Malaysia continue to provide assets and funding for an ongoing search??

Many of the relatives and friends of crew and passengers are not satisfied with this declaration and want proper answers.

Who is now in charge and maintaining the search for MH370?
Monday, 2 February 2015
Posted by Des Ross

A new way to locate missing Aircraft: GADSS

A working group established after the loss of MH370 and headed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has released a paper, ‘Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System’ (GADSS) describing their concept for future aircraft tracking and emergency alerting.

With the recent loss of QZ8501 on 28th December 2014, the problems of quickly locating a downed aircraft are again being highlighted and this us addressed in these initiatives from the working group.

Everyone must understand that this is a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) that will be introduced systematically on a global basis.  It will take time for all nations to introduce the systems into aircraft under their control and for ground based air traffic centres to be able to establish the necessary procedures and systems.

This GADSS will not prevent an accident from occurring but it is intended to improve the way in which aircraft are tracked and then located when they have an emergency or an  event which results in a crash.

It is intended to dramatically improve the time taken to locate a downed aircraft and, therefore to improve the chances of rescuing survivors.

It will also enable a more rapid recovery of the Flight Data (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), commonly known as the “black boxes”, which are essential to fully investigate and understand the cause of any accident.  These recorders capture all vital system data about the flight and exactly what the flight crew were saying and doing in the two hour period leading up to the time of the accident. 

It is a major weakness in the current safety system that this critical information is currently held within the recorders on board the aircraft making it essential for the recorders to be recovered and analysed.

Why is that so?  The technology certainly exists to allow all the recorded data to be downloaded to a ground based station in real time so that the accident can be analysed even if the recorders cannot be recovered quickly.  However, there are concerns over the  cost of handling, and analysing large amounts of data being streamed by thousands of commercial flights on a daily basis.  It cannot be implemented immediately but will undoubtedly be possible in the near future.

Streaming of the data may not be able to avoid an incident which results in a crash, but it will certainly assist by informing operations centres on the ground of the last known position of the aircraft to facilitate any search that is needed and, of great importance, it will provide information on exactly why the aircraft did crash so that lessons can be learnt to avoid such an event from repeating.

Meanwhile, some military technology could be used by which all large airline aircraft will be required to fit “deployable” Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT’s) and Data Recorders. Military aircraft currently have this capability and the concept is simply that the equipment will detach from the aircraft if it is in an emergency situation and is going to crash.  The ELT and recorder will be able to float on the surface of the ocean or be on the ground but separate from the main crash site, so that it can be tracked and located by search aircraft.
ICAO is the peak international body which determines Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for international implementation.  However, it is an office within the United Nations and it has no power to actually enforce these SARPs in Member States areas of jurisdiction.

Therefore, the GADSS will need to be translated into laws, rules and regulations, by each individual country engaged in international civil aviation, so that these laws will apply to aircraft and air navigation service providers which operate within their national jurisdiction. 
This must be done to ensure that all aircraft being used by fare paying passengers will comply and fit the equipment needed.  Otherwise it is likely that some airlines will avoid the expense of doing so. Herein lies a part of the problem.  It should not be a surprise to know that there are currently some airlines that do not closely follow all international laws, rules and reglations, and, predictably, these airlines are mainly in the developing nations of the World.

A simple Google search for “List of Airlines banned by EU” will provide an indication of the difficulties faced by ICAO and the international community in assessing the operational safety of airlines.  You should note that this list is not always saying that an individual airline is known to be unsafe but rather that the regulatory authority within that country is not doing its job well enough for the EU to have confidence in its ability to ensure that these airlines are operationally up to international standards of safety.

This will become an issue in the introduction of the GADSS over the next years, and it would not be surprising to see a tiered system in place whereby the top world airlines implement GADSS and others drag their feet. This also may in time become a consideration for Civil Aviation Authorities to introduce new bans for non complying airlines from their airspace.
Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Posted by Des Ross

Airlines are growing too quickly in SE Asia with risks to safety

Desmond Ross, on Bloomberg TV today talks about the explosive growth of airlines in SE Asia and how this may be impacting on the safety of aviation in the region.

Watch the full interview    .
Sunday, 4 January 2015
Posted by Des Ross

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