Fire on Jetstar flight sparks invective over air-safetyMatt O'Sullivan

| 12.06,09. 07:24 AM |

Fire on Jetstar flight sparks invective over air-safetyMatt O'Sullivan

June 12, 2009
A FIRE in the cockpit of a Jetstar passenger jet forced to make an emergency landing on a Pacific island was most probably caused by a short-circuit in a windshield heater.

If safety investigators who flew to Guam yesterday to inspect the A330-200 find this is the case, it will be the second such incident for the Qantas Group in 18 months. Last week an Air France A330 crashed into the Atlantic.

The fire has raised fresh concerns about air safety and sparked a dispute between the airline and engineering union officials, who say it highlights the need for all heavy maintenance of aircraft to be moved back to Australia.

Flight JQ20, carrying 190 passengers and 13 crew from Osaka to the Gold Coast, diverted to Guam after a fire broke out near the cockpit's starboard window less than four hours after take-off. It is the third serious mid-air incident for the Qantas Group in the past year and is a blow to Jetstar.

Qantas's low-cost offshoot has cut a third of flights between Australia and Japan until at least the end of next month because of a slump in demand.

Jetstar's chief executive, Bruce Buchanan, said the aircraft's computer system had detected a fault with the cockpit's windscreen heater "but whether it's an electrical problem I'm not sure".

"As far as we can tell it's just a freak accident. It looks like something has gone wrong with the wiring, but it's too early to say whether … it's the primary cause."

About 44 Australians were on flight JQ20, and most other passengers were Japanese. The fire was contained to the cockpit and no one was injured.

The passengers were due to arrive at Brisbane Airport early today on an aircraft Jetstar flew to Guam yesterday.

In February last year a Qantas Boeing 747 had to make an emergency landing in Sydney after pilots noticed fumes in the cockpit.

In October more than 70 passengers were injured - 14 seriously - when a Qantas A330 went into a mid-air plunge over Western Australia.

The two-year-old A330 in the latest accident had its last heavy maintenance check in Manila in December.

The federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, Steve Purvinas, said the incident showed Qantas should "come clean about the high level of overseas maintenance on Australian aircraft".

Mr Buchanan said Jetstar "could almost categorically say that there is no link" to the Air France aircraft. He described the union claims as ridiculous and accused it of using the incident for "political advantage".


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