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Fly Montserrat: Business as Usual After The Fatal Crash

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Fly Montserrat: Business as Usual After The Fatal Crash

Unread post by bimjim » Sun May 17, 2015

http://www.mnialive.com/articles/fly-mo ... atal-crash

Fly Montserrat and The Governor:
Business as Usual After The Fatal Crash
Jeevan A. Robinson

The formal investigation of the airline began in April 2014, when ASSI contracted an Investigation and Enforcement Officer from the CAA's Office of the General Counsel, Des Nelhams. As an experienced Detective Superintendent of Scotland Yard, Mr. Nelhams proceeded to interview and collect written statements "that would stand up in court" or other legal proceedings.
  • Image
    What is the relationship between Governor Davis & Fly Montserrat's management?
It seems reasonable to expect the accident and resulting deaths of 3 people would have a profound effect on how the airline and the Governor carried on the business of air safety - them becoming far more safety conscious. However, it appears just the opposite occurred.

Update: The Governor has responded yet again to our second article. You will want to pause here, and read his latest comments and our reply (available here) before proceeding as it impacts upon this article.

In our first installment of this series, we exposed how the UK's regulator, acting as advisor to the Governor of Montserrat, was eventually forced to recommend action against the airline. A lengthy investigation resulted in many pilots, passengers and airport staff coming forward with their personal experiences. These written statements were protected by the UK Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) whistle-blower protection, but copies of the statements were passed directly to the airline.

Additionally and as recently as January 2015, even after the latest round of sanctions were in place, the British Governor forwarded formal and confidential e-mail from citizens to the airline, resulting in threats of punitive legal action against this group by the airline's lawyers.

Now that these statements are no longer confidential, we can relay some of the accounts of the airline's practices that finally led Air Safety Support International (ASSI) to insist on changes in operational management at Fly Montserrat.

The formal investigation of the airline began in April 2014, when ASSI contracted an Investigation and Enforcement Officer from the CAA's Office of the General Counsel, Des Nelhams. As an experienced Detective Superintendent of Scotland Yard, Mr. Nelhams proceeded to interview and collect written statements "that would stand up in court" or other legal proceedings.

A small sample of the findings include:

A pilot's girlfriend, who was not a commercial pilot, listed in the log as a pilot (dressed in a pilot's uniform while occupying the co-pilot seat) and flying with passengers onboard in order to gain flying experience. This incident was first reported to the Eastern Caribbean Aviation Authority (ECCAA) in Antigua by an SVG pilot, Ted (Teddy) Thomas. (later confirmed through ASSI investigation of log book entries);

A very experienced pilot quitting after only 11 days sighting dangerous safety practices;

Management encouraging pilots to fly in winds greater than the aircraft's limits (confirmed through testimony of a private pilot and tower staff);

Pilots and engineers encouraged not to write aircraft defects in logs because the airline was only a small carrier and pilots "needed to be reasonable". All aircraft defects must be addressed within a given period of time, categorised by severity. Repairs cannot be postponed past the stipulated timeframe, hence the request to not record issues. When defects are hidden, unsuspecting passengers are flying on planes that are technically, and legally, grounded.

After discussions about how to keep a defective aircraft flying (repeated and consistent failure to start left engine on VP-MNI), the repair centre in Anguilla sent a message to remind the airline, "Please be advised that this aircraft cannot operate commercially if there is a known problem. Arrangements should be made to bring this aircraft to main base for rectification or support from main base go to MNI to assist in rectifying problem."

Regarding a different defect (malfunctioning generator and the aircraft's inability to balance the load between the generators), the airline sent e-mail messages describing how the grounded aircraft, VP-MNI, could be kept flying from the date of the message, August 26, 2014, to the plane's scheduled maintenance in October, nearly 3 months away. As a result of our investigation, MNI Alive has received internal e-mail messages of these incidents and discussions.

In one of the most horrific accounts of the findings, a young pilot was forced to land in Montserrat without functioning flaps because the airline's management was allegedly not willing to pay for hotel rooms for some of the passengers onboard. When the plane finally came to a stop and could turn back towards the terminal, the wing was "hanging over the edge of the cliff" during the turn. The frightened pilot apologised profusely to Canadian passengers who later reported this incident.

Clearly, ASSI found a preponderance of evidence against the airline, concluding "As a result of our investigation, the operator has been subject to close monitoring and the renewal periods for its operating certificate have also been reduced whilst we track progress against various actions... A number of significant changes have been introduced to the FM management structure, ...[and] further changes are to be implemented by April 2015 and we will continue to closely monitor the operator until at least mid-2015" (ASSI CEO, Jan 5, 2015).

As a result of the investigation, Nigel Harris was forced to step-down as the airline's Chief Pilot and Accountable Manager (or in his words - put a transition plan in place).

The airline's second largest private shareholder was put forward as the new Accountable Manager who must "demonstrate the ability to direct the activities of the organisation, ...[has] ultimate responsibility for operational standards and compliance with the relevant regulations, ...[has] appropriate authority for human resources matters, ...[and] has corporate authority for ensuring that all operations and maintenance system activities can be financed and carried out to the standard required" (OTAC 119-1, CAP 789).

The glaring oversight in appointing this shareholder to the Accountable Manager position is that he lives and works in the US. The old management is still in place, and if you have travelled through Montserrat you know this to be true.

Either directly on-the-ground or via Skype from their home a few miles away, the same 2 people run all aspects of daily operations of the airline they formed in 1989. (see article here)

The other glaring failure of this smoke-and-mirrors game is the airline has been given time to become familiar with, and incorporate, ASSI regulations to improve the firm's safety culture. Really? So how did Nigel Harris own and operate no fewer than 7 previous airline companies in the UK while not being fully aware of the industry's regulations? (Companies listed show last registered and historical names in parenthesis - i.e. name changed.)
  • • London Flight Centre (Headcorn) Limited - (Loop Venture Limited)
    • Love Air Limited
    • London Flight Centre (Stansted)
    • Stansted Aviation Centre Limited - (Action Forward Limited)
    • London Flight Centre (Training) Limited - (London Flight Centre (LYDD) Limited)
    • London Flight Centre (Engineering) Limited - (London Flight Centre (Bristol) Limited)
    • London Flight Centre (Air Charter) Limited - (Altair Aviation Limited)
In an interview with Management Today, Nigel Harris is reported to have all his 65 staff transfer operations between the UK and Caribbean twice a year. (see article here) Really? He had a staff of 65 and is still unaware of industry compliance rules?

In terms of shedding light on the management culture at Fly Montserrat, one of the most telling pieces of information in the written statements collected in 2014 and 2015 were threats made to pilots about ruining their future employment prospects if they went to authorities regarding the safety practices at the airline. These threats turned to action during Nigel Harris' tenure as Accountable Manager, and the practice continues even after ASSI claims a "new management team" is in charge.

In an e-mail obtained during our investigations, the Managing Director at SVG Air, Grenadine Airways, ABM Air, OECS Aircraft Maintenance, Paul Gravel, stated he "got a call from MNI to warn me about your lack of airmanship and how you landed Runway 28 after having to overshoot it and on the second attempt you landed long and blew the tires. What is the true story?" (Paul Gravel, February 26, 2015)

The pilot who agreed to be named in this article, Abe Ayyad, was the subject of these exchanges and has over 30 years of flying experience, is a long-time flight trainer and who, only days before this fabricated incident, was complemented on his handling of his plane in windy conditions by ASSI regulators during their inspections in February 2015. Abe stated Mr. Harris' telephone call was silly since any such incident would force tower staff to send a Mandatory Occurrence Report to ASSI, and of course, no such report was filed.

Fortunately, the ability of authorities to subpoena telephone records of both Nigel Harris and Paul Gravel would put an end to denials of such behaviour and clearly show the call took place. Additionally, similar incidents took place on at least 2 other occasions, again one after the "new management team" was in place, highlighting a continuing pattern of such behaviour. Not only is the airline willing to suppress information through threats, the firm is also more than happy to fabricate the information entirely in its bid to silence experienced pilots from exposing wrong-doing in the airline's practices.

The Governor of Montserrat, Adrian Davis, first made citizens aware of the CAA's whistle-blower protection in an email dated February 6, 2014, and the initial message in the thread contained statements that clearly fell within the whistle-blower policy. Strangely however, the Governor copied his reply to the head of the DFID organization on the island who was also a board member of the Montserrat Development Corporation (MDC). MDC is a major shareholder in the airline, and we have confirmed this message was passed along to the airline.

Similarly and even after the most recent sanctions against the airline, it is likely Adrian Davis passed along confidential and protected messages directly to the airline on or about January 21, 2015. We know this because the Chief Operating Officer at ASSI confirmed he and his organisation did not forward the message, the only other recipients. The deliberate breach of the CAA's policy resulted in the airline launching threats of punitive legal action, directly referring to information contained in the confidential report.

Having been aware of the CAA policy and privy to the threats contained in testimony, Governor Davis as the aviation "competent authority" for the Territory, continued to provide direct and illegal support to the airline. (Yes, it is illegal to violate the whistle-blower protection.)

In light of the Governor's continued support of the airline after the crash, was the airline emboldened to continue such illegal safety practices? After all, the company was untouchable, was it not?

The Governor continues to deny he is the "competent authority" for air safety on the island, deny he has the power to alter or suppress information, claims there is no record of Air Traffic Controllers submitting Mandatory Occurrence Reports they clearly state were submitted before the crash, and he continues to provide material support to the airline.

His protection of the airline and the absence of a report on the "fully investigated" 2010 mid-air engine failure must be seen as directly contributing to the deaths of 3 innocent passengers. In this regard, both the airline's management and the British Government, through the actions of its Governor, must be seen as culpable in the deaths.

What will it take before the British Government begins a formal and public enquiry into the deaths and continued dangerous practices of the airline?

Again, why does The Civil Aviation (Investigation of Air Accidents And Incidents) Regulations (S.R.O. 72/2007) of Montserrat give the Governor the power to alter and thereby suppress any and all air safety issues on the island?

Why can he exempt companies or individuals form mandatory reporting of incidents under the Air Navigation (Overseas Territories) Order of 2007?

Why is Fly Montserrat allowed to carry passengers after allowing inexperienced pilots to fly VP-MON after its 2010 mid-air engine failure and while continuing to threaten pilots in a bid to suppress willful action at circumventing safety regulations?

Where does the Premier, Donaldson Romeo, stand on the call for a UK public enquiry and a repeal of the 2 Acts that provide the Governor these powers? As Opposition Leader, Mr. Romeo was the only politician who spoke of the need to investigate problems at the airline.

What will it take before Montserratians rise up and demand the repeal of the Governor's powers and call for direct protection under the UK's professional regulators, who must have complete and unfettered jurisdiction in protecting passengers?

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