December 8, 2006

PSU takes issue with Director of Airports

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Public Service Union (PSU) has taken issue with statements by the Director of Airports which its says led to a perception that two of its members were culpable in the disappearance of an light aircraft last month.

The union, referring to the disappearance of SVG Air aircraft J8-VAX with two people aboard on November 19, 2006 specifically referred to a news release from Director of Airports which stated that the “alerting process did not commence until 9:30 pm” which was nearly two and a half hours after the aircraft reported passing Bequia and was four minutes away from landing – that was around 6:51 pm.{{more}}

“This has led to the perception in the public domain that certain Air Traffic Controllers conducted themselves negligently and that their acts or omissions played or might have played some part in the aircraft not being found,” a statement from the union said.

The union set out its understanding of the events leading up to the alarm being raised.

Firstly, it said that there was no distress call and secondly there was no reason for the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) to believe that there was an emergency.

The union said that the rules are that when an aircraft had not reported in for 30 minutes or it had failed to arrive 30 minutes after the estimated time of arrival, or “some time” had passed after an unsuccessful attempt to contact the aircraft does the Control Tower enter the first phase of an emergency. This was known as the “uncertainty phase” in which the ATC was required to attempt to determine the probable location of the aircraft – which they did.

“According to the information lodged with the PSU, within five minutes after the aircraft was expected to land, enquiries were made as to its location. The PSU was informed that it is quite common for small aircraft to land with Air Traffic Control clearance and for them to proceed directly to their hangar, without notifying the tower as is required.”

“In this case, contact with J8-VAX was attempted; when that failed, efforts were made to check the ramp; when that failed, contact was made with the hangar to see whether the aircraft had landed; SVG Air’s operation was contacted to find out if they had contact with the aircraft or where it may be. That company’s worker advised that the aircraft should be on the ground at E.T. Joshua Airport. About 9:00 pm, Mr Paul Gravel of SVG Air enquired as to the location of the craft and a few minutes later called saying that the plane was missing. A physical check of ramp was made,” the release stated.

The release was unclear as to whether the Control Tower had been making enquires for the two hour period between the five minutes after the scheduled time of arrival and the 9:00 pm telephone call from Gravel, SVG Air’s Managing Director.

However, the PSU did say that upon notification by Gravel enquiries were made of the Canouan fire service but it took 20 minutes to get assistance from the Canouan Authorities.

“Upon learning that J8-VAX was not on the ramp there, all emergency services were activated and Piarco Centre was informed the aircraft was missing,” the statement continued but did not state the time that this phase of the alert was raised or whether it was consistent with phase two of the alerting process.

“The PSU will resist any attempt to make scapegoats out of this unfortunate incident and will vigourously defend its members.”

The PSU has also said that the “public should know why the aircraft had to over-night in Mustique (on Friday November 17) and whether the aircraft experience(d) any mechanical problems.”