Inquiry told airline used unpaid pilots


The aircraft operator involved in a crash that killed 15 people let inexperienced pilots fly passenger flights unpaid to clock up flying time, a Senate inquiry has been told.

Fiona Norris, whose husband was one of 15 killed when a Transair Metroliner crashed near Lockhart River in Far North Queensland in 2005, said Transair pilots were buying flying time while carrying passengers.

Her husband, Paul Raymond Norris, a pilot, was a passenger.

Ms Norris said the pilots bought time to increase their flight experience hours. “I know many pilots who had bought time with Transair,” she said.

“Whilst undergoing training, but actually buying time in the capacity that they’re not getting paid an income at all, they’re actually buying their time,” Ms Norris said.

She said the practice was aimed at getting the pilots’ flying hours up to a required level.

“Under a situation where there isn’t really a proper check and training capacity, where it is not really in the interest of the airline to really train these pilots, it’s simply a money-making scheme for them,” she said.

Ms Norris said pilots with a low number of flying hours should be prevented from flying under certain conditions.

A coroner found the pilot flew too fast and attempted an unauthorised landing, and the airline’s poor safety management practices contributed to the crash.

“I come here with the capacity of a very human element as to how the system failed my husband and the other passengers on board that flight that day,” Ms Norris said.

“Obviously, I can only talk from experience as in from that particular flight, is that the co-pilot had very low time, he had under 500 hours.

“My husband, who was a pilot, had around 1500 hours and he was not in the position of flying a metro, a high-performance aeroplane.”