(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Malaysian Government must take a very serious view of the Sunday Times of London report yesterday that the airliner which flew over central London two weeks ago with near-empty fuel tanks belonged to Malaysian Airlines as well as reports that MAS’ full involvement was to be revealed in the latest publication of the respected trade magazine Flight International.
The Sunday Times reported:
"The aircraft is understood to have had so little fuel that even a slight delay could have resulted in its plunging into a densely populated area. It would have had empty tanks had its first approach to Heathrow failed.
"This weekend it emerged that aircraft are alleged to have been involved in about 10 similar incidents. A government inquiry is under way which could lead to MAS being banned from British airspace.
"The incident was reported anonymously to an organisation called the Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme (Chirp), a government-funded organisaion set up to encourage whistleblowers who want to report safety breaches in the aviation industry. It published full details - but not the name of the airline - in a report last week."
According to the Sunday Times report, "MAS's involvement is, however, to be revealed in full by the respected trade magazine Flight International tomorrow. This weekend other sources within the airline industry also confirmed the identity of the airline."
The British Sunday newspaper went on to report on the incident:
"The incident happened about a fortnight ago when the aircraft, carrying passengers from the Far East, crossed the British coast over Clacton, Essex. Its subsequent path took it over densely populated parts of London.
"After it landed, the flight crew refused to taxi to the designated parking area and insisted on one that was much closer. Ground staff from another airline, employed by MAS to work on its aircraft at Heathrow, noticed that the fuel tank gauges showed empty.
"Subsequent checks showed that the tanks, capable of holding 180 tons of fuel, contained just over three tons - the equivalent of a car running on a pint of petrol. British aviation rules say 747s must have at least 4.5 tons on board when they land and British Airways (BA) operates on a margin of nine tons.
"The Chirp report describes the incident as ‘one of the more serious operational practices to have been brought recently to our attention’. It says that the carrier had insufficient fuel to divert to another airport and adds: ‘If a go-around had been called for, the crew would not have been able to put the aircraft into the correct configuration.’
"Experienced BA pilots described the incident as one of the worst they had heard about. One said: ‘This was potentially extremely dangerous. If this carrier had gone below four tons it should have declared a Mayday emergency.’
"There are many reasons why an aircraft can run low on fuel. Some are technical, but in many cases problems are caused by human or financial factors. Many airlines try to economise by reducing fuel loads - which also makes the aircraft lighter and cheaper to run."
Another British newspaper, the Daily Mail, said the Boeing 747-400 could have crashed on densely-populated areas including the London docklands, Westminister and Kensington had it been even slightly delayed on the last stage of its flight into Heathrow. It would have been unable to divert to another airport or join a circling stack of planes waiting to land.
Although the New Straits Times today reported the denial of the Malaysia Airlines UK, Europe and Ireland vice president Ahmad Fuad Dahlan that none of its aircraft that flew into Heathrow Airport a fortnight ago was "in such a situation", DAP calls on the Transport Ministry to launch an independent public inquiry on the serious allegation to protect not only MAS’ good name but even more important Malaysia’s international reputation of reliability and trustworthiness.
I am particularly concerned about reports that there had been ten similar incidents causing the British Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) which has responsibility for the foreign airlines that use British airports to cause an inquiry to be held that might lead to Malaysia Airlines being banned from British airspace.
This is because there had been circulation of such allegations going as far back as a few years ago, particularly after the fatal Malaysia Airlines Fokker-50 aircraft crash in Tawau on Sept. 15, 1995 which killed the pilot, co-pilot and 32 passengers. The pilot was Captain Wong Khang Lock, 40 and co-pilot Su Tiong Hee, 24.
The report of the inquiry into the Fokker-50 crash in Tawau attributed the most probable cause to the pilot’s poor inflight decision-making and failure to follow standard operating procedures.
The inquiry found that the national carrier’s Cockpit Resource Management programme had been put on hold, as Malaysian Airlines was restructuring its organisation and introducing new fuel flight planning policies, personnel rostering, training and appointment of new chief pilots, base managers and maintenance organisation.
One of the questions the inquiry into the Tawau Fokker-50 crash in Tawau did not answer is whether the MAS’ cost-cutting measures, particularly with regard to low fuel flight regulations, had any bearing on the pilot’s poor inflight decision-making which it claimed was the most probable cause of the fatal mishap.