Is Air New Zealand’s cost-cutting compromising its safety record?

One thing passengers don’t want to hear is that their flight has been delayed because of engineering problems.

It seems to be happening more frequently. Why? And is Air New Zealand massaging its safety record? Incidents which cause alarm to passengers are not being reported in the media.

Why so many engineering problems? Could the reason be partly due to the fact that, according to one long-time New Zealand engineer, the shifts were changed? Whereas three engineers worked eight-hour shifts each, now two engineers are rostered to work 12 hour shifts instead. As an engineer involved comments, the last three hours are when the mistakes happen. Understandably, given the extraordinary concentration needed by maintenance staff to keep these planes safe in the air.

It is almost incredible that Air New Zealand’s aeronautical engineers are being required to work 12 hour shifts when public safety is an issue – let alone the health and stress consequences for individuals.  An article in The CAA September/October 2002 journal points out there is probably no way to avoid the need for maintenance to be done at night. While arguing that this does not mean that fatigue levels can’t be managed, it concedes that almost all night-shift workers suffer from a lack of quality sleep.

Moreover “Australian research has shown that moderate sleep deprivation of the kind experienced by shift workers can produce effects very similar to those produced by alcohol.” Noting that “a relatively limited number of unsafe acts such as work-arounds, memory lapses and situational awareness errors typically occur in the context of problems such as unclear or poor procedures, lack of equipment or spares, communication breakdowns, time pressure and fatigue, the article concludes: “Unfortunately, advances in aviation technology have not necessarily matched by improvements in the way we organise the work of the people who maintain aircraft.”

Plus ça change? How much credibility should we give to the claim a twelve hour shift roster was given the support of 84% of hangar staff after a 12 month trial? What about the high degree of probability that qualified staff, anxious not to lose their jobs, would feel the necessity to agree to a situation which is overly-taxing, and clearly not optimum?

Feedback from readers in this area would be interesting. Some are reporting that on one particular busy route, a trouble-free flight is now an exception. Even allowing for possible exaggeration, these incidents are certainly regularly occurring.   And being required to remain penned on a plane sitting on the hot tarmac of Auckland airport for an extra hour and more in these high summer temperatures (a recent reported occurrence) is not only a worry for passengers who have no idea what the problem is – but adds to the stress of all who are suffering the effects of the heat while the plane is stationary.

When asked some time back why Air New Zealand causes alarm to passengers by telling them that their plane has an engineering problem, the answer came that the airline was required to do so, in the interests of freedom of information. However, when then asked why the passengers weren’t told exactly what the problem was  – the answer was that Air New Zealand isn’t required to do so.

Why not – in the interests of keeping passengers fully informed? And why aren’t passengers given the choice of leaving a plane which they have been told has engineering problems – to choose another plane? Not to allow passengers the choice of disembarking, if there are problems with the plane, seems entirely unreasonable.

Moreover, a number of incidents which should cause concern are not being reported in the media… such as a plane required to turn back to Auckland some little while ago – at the slowest possible speed manageable without stalling…

We need better answers from Air New Zealand – whose prices have also headed back up to about what they were before Jetstar came on the scene. As frequently noted,  it is usually more affordable for New Zealanders to fly to Australia than within our own country.  Grab-A-Seat offers have limited value only.  And we can rely on Air New Zealand’s prices shooting up around the times of special public holidays like the Christmas period, when families hope to visit one anther again. For many it is simply unaffordable.

Our pilots may be among the best in the world, our engineers, too. But isn’t it time we required more accountability from the usual suspects… from management, whose  first concern – as with so many of today’s corporations  – seems to be to increase returns to shareholders  – and to  CEOs?

 

© Amy Brooke  © Amy Brooke, Convener. See my book “100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand …what has gone wrong, and how we can control our politicians.” Available through www.amybrooke.co.nz, Kindle, or HATM Publishers.

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© Amy Brooke, Convener. See my book “100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand …what has gone wrong, and how we can control our politicians.” Available through www.amybrooke.co.nz, Kindle, or HATM Publishers.

It helps a lot to SHARE or LIKE us through the social media network! https://www.facebook.com/100daystodemocracy?ref=br_tf

Help us fight for the 100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand movement!

We need you to help get our message further out by donating. See www.100days.co.nz-  Thank you!