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By Joe Kanekane

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 29, 1999 – The Independent)---Reports by Air Niugini pilots suggest that top-level management continually ignored concerns and recommendations pilots made to improving the operation and safety of the airlines.

As a result of this negligence, the company's problems -- ranging from fundamental safety issues to aircraft flight plans -- have not been heeded, and the present state of many of the aircraft is testimonial to this neglect, according to the two confidential reports obtained by The Independent.

This is contrary to comments made in recent weeks by Air Niugini’s Managing Director Andrew Ogil, who said safety was a priority for the airline.

Ogil reportedly said that the mass sacking of engineers last year did not affect the airline and the company was capable of handling the dilemma.

The reports said many Air Niugini employees, including experienced national pilots, have quit in protest of the lack of attention being given to the issues that were raised.

According to one of the reports dated November 21, 1998, one of the auditors of the Office of Civil Aviation (OCA) was stunned at how the airline was allowed to operate in the country amidst the lack of sufficient attention given to problems being raised.

"If Air Niugini were a Regular Passenger Transport (RPT) operator in Australia, we would have long since ceased to operate on the grounds that the safety of our operation was unacceptably compromised by the failure of the aviation infrastructure within PNG," the auditor stated in his report.

He also assessed that the progressive failure of flight safety related services within the country had occurred over many years and that the flight crew had developed 'coping strategies,' which at least minimized and in some cases totally overcame the unsafe aspects of the failing aviation infrastructure.

"This is an individual skill and not a skill that can be taught within the normal training syllabus of any airline," the auditor said.

The report also notes that following the release of the safety audit, major clients like Chevron and Placer Pacific ended their contract with Air Niugini due to safety concerns.

The audit report, sponsored by AusAID, concluded that the aviation operating standards in the country were nowhere near Australia’s standards.

It further highlighted that the PNG navigational aids, communication facilities, meteorological services, landing aids, and airport serviceability were to prevent aircraft accidents, but in some cases there have been instances where a degradation of facilities has specifically resulted in an increase in the potential for an accident.

The report said pilots were concerned about the company’s attitude that pilots in command are totally responsible for the safe, efficient and profitable operation of the airline, despite the airline’s lower standards.

The report, however, informed the management that despite these confrontations, pilots continued to carry out their duties, which included:

*Performing minor repairs at out ports in order to maintain the operation of the aircraft rather than grounding it and waiting for an expensive rescue from Port Moresby;

*Interpreting the many different rules and regulations to maximize the continued operation of aircraft, especially where problems occur en route or at out ports, and where a more rigid application of these rules could easily result in the grounding of the aircraft at an out port;

*Planning refueling to maximize company profitability by minimizing fuel uplifts from ports where passenger loads are high or where fuel prices are high and the carriage of fuel from other ports will significantly reduce the fuel bill for that sector;

*Flying the aircraft faster than planned to make up time when late;

*Using local knowledge of range and endurance flying when faced with destination weather problems, in order to avoid a diversion to an alternate airfield, with its associated severe schedule disruption and possible financial penalty to Air Niugini; and

*Constantly finding ways around apparently insurmountable obstacles, which characterize every single working day of a pilot within PNG and with Air Niugini.

The second report dated July 29, 1999 confirmed the earlier report, but this time with specific case-by-case instances of possible neglect by the management of Air Niugini.

The report noted that 32 pilots found new jobs within the past two years. The report said management should be worried about the exodus and find out the reasons behind it.

"If even one third of the potential resignees are successful in their endeavors, the actual loss of experience for the airline will have an immediate adverse effect on the flight safety standards of the company in an environment which demands the highest level of safety for passengers," the report stated.

It highlighted 12 major areas that were being faced by the pilots. These included aircraft overloads, breaches of security, unforeseen bad weather conditions, unnotified failures on radio navigational aids, closure of control services, lack of rescue and fire fighting services, failure of refueling facilities, reduction of separation standards between aircraft, unreported conflicting traffic, pot holes appearing in runway surfaces, and radio communication facilities failures.

A series of questions was faxed to acting managing director Chris Mek, however no response was received before The Independent went to press.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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