Jetstar Pacific’s woes have intensified following the reporting of details of a Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) report that found that the part Qantas Group owned airline had violated maintenance regulations.
The CAAV report was quoted as saying three Jetstar Pacific officials, former CEO Luong Hoai Nam and two foreigners in charge of the airline’s maintenance and technical quality areas, had made errors in monitoring maintenance work.
“Key JPA (Jetstar Pacific Airways) executives have to take responsibility for these systematic mistakes,” AFP quoted the CAAV as saying. According to the AFP’s January 13 news report, “the CAAV said it discovered several problems including those with maintenance equipment, efficiency of the maintenance system and training of technicians.” Those problems put flights at risk, CAAV deputy director Lai Xuan Thanh was reported as saying by the Vietnam News Agency.
Fairfax Media subsequently reported that the CAAV found that Jetstar Pacific illegally fired engineers Australian Bernard McCune and New Zealander Digger King for trying to bring maintenance problems to the attention of Australian managers at the airline, and that the CAAV ordered Jetstar Pacific stand down Australian maintenance manager David Andrew and Bulgarian technical quality manager Atanas Stankov from their positions.
Fairfax quotes the CAAV report as saying: ”many mistakes and violations were covered up deliberately by JPA from the supervision”. The report also said that the “’quality assurance system operated very poorly and ineffectively, therefore … many violations occurred within the maintenance process. Managerial staff was actual causes (sic) and fully responsible for this system error.”
In Australia the reports were seized upon by union officials, with the Transport Workers Union saying it had already been investigating the Qantas Group for alleged safety breaches for some months. “The unions want to investigate how a Qantas subsidiary is behaving overseas and whether or not they are flouting international aviation safety laws,” TWU spokesman Tony Sheldon said in a statement.
“There’s a question of cutting costs. There’s a question of inappropriate safety. These allegations [that] have now been proven to the Vietnamese Civil Aviation Authority are extremely serious,” he told ABC News. “But it is critical that there be an independent investigation to make sure that they’re meeting laws and legal requirements internationally.”
The union representing Qantas’s Australian maintenance engineers, the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA), meanwhile said the CAAV’s findings reflected poorly on the Australian aviation regulator, CASA. “The Vietnamese aviation watchdog has put Australia’s own (CASA) to shame by bringing this incident to public attention,” ALAEA federal secretary Steve Purvinas said in a statement.
Qantas subsequently conceded in its own statement issued on Thursday afternoon that the CAAV report “identified a number of administrative and quality issues related to the airline’s operations”, but reiterated its confidence in its Jetstar Pacific investment (it holds 27 per cent) and the Vietnamese airline’s maintenance and safety record.
“We remain confident in our investment in Jetstar Pacific and confident in the airline’s total commitment to safety,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in the statement.
“The CAAV identified some issues and these have already been addressed by the airline. We will work with our Vietnamese partners on the Jetstar Pacific board as they continue to liaise with the CAAV.”
Qantas said that in addition to CAAV investigations, it had “supported” a number of routine and independent maintenance audits of Jetstar Pacific’s performance.
“The first of these was undertaken prior to the airline taking on the Jetstar brand and the most recent was finalised in October last year,” Joyce said. “This audit concluded there were no safety concerns with Jetstar Pacific’s operations and that the airline met regulatory requirements.
Joyce also hit back at union criticisms. “Yet again, the leadership of these unions is taking an opportunistic and cynical approach based on a very poor understanding of this issue,” he said. “Statements made by the ALAEA’s Steve Purvinas, in particular, indicate he is ill-informed as far as the CAAV report and Jetstar Pacific are concerned.”
Earlier in the week it emerged that former CEO Nam had been arrested for neglecting duties at the still majority state owned airline, and that two Australian Jetstar executives seconded to Jetstar Pacific, Tristan Freeman and Daniella Marsilli, had been prevented from leaving Vietnam before Christmas while authorities investigate fuel hedging losses at the airline.
And late last year it emerged that the CAAV and Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport had raised objections to Jetstar Pacific using the Jetstar name.