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Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201400012
Date reported 18 February 2014
Concern title Report of un-airworthy aircraft being used for charter operations
Concern summary

The reporter advised that the operator was forcing pilots to fly aircraft which do not have serviceable autopilots or instrumentation lighting in IMC.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: General aviation
Concern subject type Aviation: Flight crew

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern that the autopilots in the aircraft operated on single pilot IFR flights are not operational and the instrumentation lighting is not to required IFR standards.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

We have the following system in place in relation to the current and ongoing maintenance of our aircraft:

  • We employ independent contractors for all the aircraft maintenance and electrical instrument and radio inspections. We have always used independent maintenance organisations to avoid any conception of cohesion between operational workload and maintenance requirements of our aging fleet.

We operate three dedicated aircraft on freight operations; we have four smaller aircraft as back up for the freight operation and also conduct passenger charter operations for various clients.

Our freight network, at the moment, supports 20 regional ports, 250 calendar days a year and we have been operating for nearly 20 years.

All aircraft operated by the company were operating under a Generated Minimum Equipment List (GMEL) system until this service was terminated by CASA. They are all now operating under approved Operators Minimum Equipment List (OMEL’s).

To outline the options in brief in regards to autopilots, the crew have three immediate options if they find an autopilot is unserviceable on a given day: they can MEL the item and elect, if they feel competent, to fly the aircraft for up to three days IFR without the autopilot, they can complete the flight under VFR conditions, or they can request an additional crew member be rostered for a particular flight.

At no time have I, or a member of my operations staff, forced a pilot to fly an unserviceable aircraft. The pilot in command at the end of the day is the one conducting the daily inspection and he or she has the overriding command decision if it needs to be made.

We have a line and base check system in place were I, as the chief pilot, fly with company pilots every 6 months and both flight checks confirm pilots are competent with instrument flying and emergency procedures with or without the use of autopilot, 90% of our flight crew elect to fly without autopilot during check rides and daily ops as they believe it enhances the hand flying skills.

In regards to cockpit lighting, this section is dealt with as an MEL item in section 33 of the MEL’s and in addition to this, under schedule 8 of pilot approved maintenance, pilots can change post lights as required as spare bulbs are supplied in the glove box or flight bag of each aircraft.

Our company currently spends in excess of 1 million dollars per annum on the ongoing maintenance of our aircraft and if required I can provide invoices for the overhaul and servicing of auto-pilots.

If you can be more specific with the actual incident that has raised this investigation, I may be able to shed more light on the circumstances and this may help me prevent any reoccurrence if possible.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA has reviewed the REPCON and associated Minimum Equipment List documentation.

The conditions are appropriate for Instrument Flight Rules flights without an autopilot and are not contrary to Civil Aviation Order requirements. CASA has also spoken to the operator and explained that autopilots are kept serviceable wherever possible.

ATSB comment

In response to this information the reporter advised that the autopilots were often unserviceable for up to five months and despite pilots reporting the issue it was not addressed. They also advised that some of the freight aircraft only have seatbelts for the left seat, so having a co-pilot was never a real option.

The ATSB advised CASA of these ongoing concerns.


Regulator Response 2:

CASA is examining the additional concerns raised regarding the autopilot situation and will take appropriate action as necessary.


CASA comment:

CASA has reviewed the further advice provided, and without more specific details such as time, date, place, aircraft type and model it is not possible to investigate these particular incidents.

The matter relating to serviceability of autopilots and instrument lighting installed to aircraft on single pilot instrument flight rules flights has been reviewed further and no evidence was found to indicate that the operator has continued to operate aircraft with open defects other than those permitted by the approved Minimum Equipment List.

CASA will continue to monitor the operator’s activity and appropriate action will be taken should any breaches be identified.

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Last update 15 May 2015