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Travel & Holiday

Tiger Airways in crisis talks to lift flying ban

It faces fresh criticism for sale of tickets without warning public
The Straits Times - July 5, 2011
By: Jonathan Pearlman
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Tiger Airways in crisis talks to lift flying ban

SYDNEY: Tiger Airways Australia executives held crisis talks with the aviation safety watchdog yesterday to try to end its flying ban as it hoped that it could resume flights as early as Saturday.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Casa), which has grounded the entire airline, is considering applying for an extension of the week-long ban and signalled it will not allow flights to resume until further safety checks have been conducted.

Extensive meetings were held yesterday between Casa officials and those from Tiger Airways, led by group president Tony Davis. Representatives from Singapore Airlines, which owns a 33 per cent stake in the company, also attended the meeting.

Casa's spokesman Peter Gibson told The Straits Times yesterday that the meetings would not produce a 'miracle solution' and a decision on the airline's future was unlikely to be made before the end of the week.

'I would not have any expectation the meetings will lead to a miracle solution but it is an important step,' he said.

'The decision (on whether to seek to extend the grounding) will not be made until much later in the week, till we have an idea of whether we can complete the investigations this week and whether safety can be maintained or not.'

Tiger has pledged to fly again as soon as possible and continued to sell tickets for regular flights from 6am on Saturday.

It dismissed claims by analysts that its days in the Australian market are numbered, saying it was committed to a 'long-term future'.

The grounding of the 10-aircraft fleet is set to cost about $2 million a week and has affected about 35,000 passengers.

'Our goal is to resume our services as quickly as possible while restoring the confidence of both Casa and the Australian public at large that safety underpins our operations at all times,' the airline said yesterday in a statement.

'Once again we would like to offer our sincere apologies to all of our passengers for the inconvenience caused. We would also like to reiterate that Tiger Airways is committed to the airline's long-term future in Australia.'

The airline said it 'will continue to work on a constructive basis with Casa to resolve their safety concerns'.

But it faced criticism from another Australian regulator yesterday - the consumer watchdog - for selling tickets without adequately warning customers its planes were grounded and that a resumption of flights depended on Casa's approval.

'If they don't draw those factors to the attention of customers, Tiger runs the risk of misleading customers,' said Mr Graeme Samuel, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Casa claims the airline poses a serious and imminent risk to air safety, citing a pattern of concerns culminating in two recent incidents in which planes flew below minimum safety levels during landings.

The last of these incidents, which is still under investigation, occurred just after 11pm last Thursday, during an Airbus A-320 flight from Sydney to Melbourne's second airport at Avalon.

The aircraft missed its approach due to a sudden tailwind and reportedly then made a second descent from about 910m without clearance from air traffic control, flying as low as about 490m - some 270m below the lowest permitted altitude.

In a separate incident on June 7, an A-320 flew below the minimum height during an approach at Melbourne's main airport, Tullamarine.

Casa says the grounding was not based purely on these incidents, but on concerns about the airline's overall response to issues raised earlier this year.

In March, the watchdog issued a show-cause notice and called on the airline to run extra checks and simulator training for pilots, improve fatigue management and ensure 'appropriately qualified people fill management and operational positions'.

The show-cause notice - which can result in an airline's licence being varied, suspended or cancelled - followed earlier concerns about the airline's maintenance record, which had been fully addressed.

In a client note in May, Goldman Sachs said Tiger's exit could raise ticket prices by about 15 per cent. The airline has about 5 per cent to 6 per cent of Australia's domestic travel market, with its tickets often more affordable than those of its competitors.



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