Sunday, August 31, 2008

Budget carrier's planes probed


Budget carrier's planes probed


The safety reputation of One-Two-Go Airlines has been called into question further by Spanair's fatal plane crash in Madrid on Aug 20 and the extended suspension of the Thai carrier's operating licence by another 30 days.

The Spanair accident that killed 153 people involves a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, a similar type of jetliner to that used on the Thai budget carrier's ill-fated flight OG269, which crashed in Phuket on Sept 16 last year, leaving 89 dead and 41 injured.

Thailand's Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has extended the suspension of One-Two-Go's licence to Sept 20 as the airline failed to meet the safety standards on the Aug 21 deadline.

One-Two-Go executives explained the airline was unable to meet the deadline as its pilots, numbering more than 60, had to wait their turn for retraining on busy flight simulators in Japan.

Last month, the DCA suspended the airline and parent carrier Orient Thai Airlines after discovering sub-standard safety requirements, lack of proper airline management, and falsification of documents by some pilots who misstated their level of aviation proficiency.

A senior executive of One-Two-Go agreed with aviation industry analysts that the two cases were worsening the carrier's image, and that could affect whether it would be allowed to fly again.

''It will be an uphill task for One-Two-Go to restore passengers' confidence in its services because it is served by an all-MD-80 series fleet,'' said the executive.

Shortly after the crash, Spanair said the US-made MD-82 airliner experienced overheating in an air intake valve before a first attempt at takeoff, but added that it was not clear if that had anything to do with the crash.

International media reports raised questions about the safety of the MD-80 series of aircraft, which they said has had a particularly troubled history.

American Airlines was forced to ground its entire MD-80 series earlier this year after a safety audit, canceling around 6,000 flights as hydraulic wiring was checked.

Almost 400 people have died in accidents involving the MD-80 series over the past five years, including the One-Two-Go runway crash at Phuket International Airport in Thailand and the 2005 West Caribbean Airways flight 708 crash in northwest Venezuela that killed 160 passengers and crew.

However,, a website dedicated to aviation safety information, ranks the MD-80 series as the second safest plane in the skies. It also lists 18 major accidents involving the model since its introduction.

The mid-range, two-engine, single-aisle jet, built by McDonnell Douglas of Long Beach, California, was introduced in 1980. MD-80 series aircraft carry up to 172 passengers, depending on seat configuration and requirements.

Nearly 1,200 were built until production ceased in 1999, two years after McDonnell Douglas's merger with the US plane-making giant Boeing.

Authorities have indirectly signalled One-Two-Go executives, who seemed to be disheartened by the turn of events, to call it quits for good, say aviation industry insiders.

But before deciding on the fate of the airline, One-Two-Go bosses want to first pass the DCA's safety audit hurdle in order to ''retrieve our pride and honour''.

About half of some 1,000 staff, including 80 cockpit staff employed by One-Two-Go and parent carrier Orient Thai Airlines have reportedly been seeking an exit as the airline plunged into financial difficulties due to the grounding.

The airlines are also facing a string of multi-billion-baht lawsuits in US courts by lawyers representing British and American families of victims of OG 269.

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