(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Yesterday, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik finally admitted that it was a MAS aircraft which "reportedly landed with low fuel" at Heathrow Airport a few weeks ago.
However, Liong Sik claimed that the MAS aircraft had about 3.6 tonnes of fuel on board which though lower than the minimum reserve fuel stipulated by the British authorities was enough to meet International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements.
Liong Sik claimed that the amount complied with minimum International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements of at least 30 minutes of fuel (about 3.6 tonnes), which is only sufficient for a straight landing without any diversions.
Liong Sik has clearly forgotten what he told reporters before chairing his ministry’s post-Cabinet meeting on May 12, where he categorically denied a report by The Sunday Times of London of May 9, 1999 that a Malaysia Airlines aircraft breached the minimum fuel requirement of British aviation regulations.
Liong Sik declared then: "During the past two months, I have not received any report on a MAS aircraft which is low on fuel having landed at Heathrow."
Liong Sik said the average fuel upon landing per flight to London was
9.7 tonnes and it was way above the 4.5 tonnes required by British
He also claimed that the Civil Aviation Authority of Britain had acknowledged that Malaysia's fuel policy is in accordance with the international standard.
Liong Sik’s denial, following denials by MAS Chairman Tan Sri Tajuddin Ramli and the MAS UK, Europe and Ireland Vice President Ahmad Fuad Dahlan that "none of its aircraft had flew into Heathrow Airport in such a situation", both about the particular incident as well as reports that there had been ten previous similar incidents involving MAS, was supposed to put to rest "irresponsible" British mass media reporting to spoil the good name of MAS.
Now, Liong Sik is virtually admitting that the Sunday Times of London report about the MAS aircraft flying ‘on empty’ over London, is all true. The report, among other things, said:
"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.
"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.’"
When I raised the issue in Parliament on May 11, 1999, and in a particular the previous ten similar MAS incidents of dangerous low-fuel practices, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Transport Ministry, Datuk Chor Chee Heung, tried to ridicule the claim and asked whether the UK Civil Aviation Authority would allow Malaysia Airlines to continue landing at Heathrow International Airport if this was true?
Instead of performing their duty to uphold the public and national interest to get to the bottom of the truth, the Transport Minister and his officers were trying to carry out a major "cover up", hoping that the whole issue would die off and that Malaysians, famous for short memories, would soon forget about the whole shocking episode.
Unfortunately for Liong Sik and MAS, the British mass media as well as the civil aviation magazine Flight International, would not let go of the issue. The latest issue of Flight International (19th May 1999) threw new light on the controversy, reporting that MAS had been indulging in such dangerous practices as far back as July 1997, and that the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had uncovered 10 such instances and that on February 22 this year, senior staff from its Safety Regulations Group flew into Kuala Lumpur where they "received assurances" from the Malaysian aviation authorities that the situation would be corrected.
With Liong Sik’s tacit admission yesterday of the truth of these reports,
it is clear that the Transport Minister and MAS had been guilty of three
Liong Sik should be telling it to the marines! After denying and now confirming that a MAS aircraft had landed at Heathrow with " just over three tons - the equivalent of a car running on a pint of petrol", he has lost even more credibility.
DAP calls for the immediate publication of the DCA report and Liong Sik’s resignation as Transpot Minister for he had compromised Malaysia’s good name in allowing Malaysian Airlines to develop a reputation as a "rogue airline" exposing passengers and foreign airports to danger with low-fuel practices.