Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Whistle blown on air safety for Australian troops

  • Whistleblower says security on some flights non-existent
  • "Easy for terrorists to get on board and use 'weapons'"
  • Just 25 percent of Defence luggage screened before loaded

The safety of Australian troops, including the nation's elite special-forces soldiers, is at risk due to poor security and "gung-ho" foreign flight crews, says a whistleblower. 

A former flight attendant told The Advertiser that security for the sector from Dubai to Australia was virtually non-existent and crew could bring anything they wanted on board.

"It would be so easy for a terrorist to get on board and use 'weapons' already there to hijack the aircraft," she said.

"There is not even a lock on the cockpit door."

Just 25 per cent of Defence luggage is screened before it is loaded, unless anything dangerous is uncovered; then, a 100 percent search is undertaken. The attendant said Portuguese engineers on board had knives, screw-drivers, Leatherman tools, Stanley knives and other potential weapons.

Opposition Defence spokesman David Johnston said it was scandalous that the Defence Minister sat on his hands while soldiers were flown to the Middle East on a foreign airline with safety concerns.

"I call on the Defence Minister to at least take a flight on one of these planes and then judge whether or not they are good enough for our troops," he said.

Soldiers bound for war in Afghanistan fly to and from Al Minhad air base near Dubai every week from Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville and Darwin on an ageing Airbus A340 aircraft operated by Portuguese firm Hifly.

The aircraft carries no markings and is chartered by the Brisbane company Adagold Aviation, under a $122 million contract.

The cost of each weekly return flight from Brisbane to Al Minhad is $734,000 and passenger numbers vary between one and 244.

The average load is 115 for a per-passenger cost of $6382, compared with an economy return fare of $1800 on Emirates Airlines.

No government minister or top-level officer has flown on the service and ministers travel first class or on an RAAF VIP jet.

The Advertiser has obtained photographs that appear to show flammable liquids stored openly in the cabin and dangerous tools, including a crash axe, stowed in full view according to Portuguese regulations.

Adagold denied any problems with the aircraft and said that no storage of unsafe goods occurred on board.

It said the aircraft had been inspected and cleared to fly by Defence and CASA just last week.

The company said that the photos had been taken by a disgruntled staff member.

A CASA spokesman said any concerns in relation to Hifly brought to its attention had been reviewed.

Source: http://www.news.com.au

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