Safety concerns prompt calls to ground REX planes
Engineers say bush airline REX should be stripped of its licence to maintain planes - effectively grounding the fleet - because staff are too scared to raise serious safety concerns.
A 17-page document filed by the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority alleges a "culture of fear" within Regional Express (REX), claiming management is intimidating maintenance crews out of reporting defects.
The ALAEA has asked CASA to revoke REX's authority to service its own jets, effectively grounding the fleet.
The complaint, filed to CASA on May 27, alleges "serious breaches of safety obligations … Coercion, intimidation and bullying of employees has reached a point where employees are reticent to report aircraft defects, including major defects, for fear of recrimination," the complaint said.
In 2017 a REX flight from Albury to Sydney nearly ended in catastrophe when a 100kg propeller landed metres from southwest Sydney homes.
An investigation identified a fatigue crack as the cause.
"The apparent discouragement of reporting of maintenance defects has created a circumstance where an unknown number of serious defects may have not been reported and aircraft have operated with a serious and imminent risk to air safety," the complaint alleges.
REX, which operates 57 aircraft across 60 regional routes, did not respond to questions.
CASA said it was "in the process of reviewing the original allegations and the corresponding responses. It is not appropriate to make any more comments at this time," a spokesman said.
A CASA source said acting on the engineers' call to strip REX of its "approved maintenance organisation" would stop it flying and leave thousands of regional travellers stranded, potentially creating a political embarrassment.
"The document's come out and upper management (at CASA) are circling the wagons and trying to manage the fallout," the source said.
A second source familiar with the investigation described the culture at REX as "manifestly dangerous".
"People won't report stuff," the second source said. "I won't fly REX any more - I'll either go QantasLink or I'll walk."
An ALAEA spokesman declined to comment on the complaint because most of the incidents cited are still subject to industrial action.
In one case mentioned in the complaint, an engineer was disciplined for finding corrosion to a propeller shaft during a routine check, resulting in a delay to the flight.
The engineer was allegedly told he wasn't supposed to check that part of the aircraft during the inspection that day.
According to the complaint, corrosion had been one of several contributing factors to the 2017 propeller fall.
"The … actions of REX management when further corrosion was … found on the propeller shaft of an operating aircraft give rise to a serious and imminent risk to air safety," the complaint said.