Author: Jeevan A. Robinson | Date: 23 February 2015
After a lengthy investigation into operations and safety practices at Fly Montserrat, the enforcement arm of the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, ASSI, ordered the removal of the individual acting as the airline's Chief Pilot and Accountable Manager. Initially the airline is reported to have refused to cooperate until the regulator threatened to revoke the company's Air Operator's Certificate (AOC), thereby grounding the airline. The AOC is passengers' assurance the regulator is satisfied the airline's management is "competent to secure the safe operation of aircraft".
Formal action against the airline began in February 2014 when a group of concerned citizens wrote to the Governor of Montserrat for assistance since he is responsible for air safety under both the UK and Montserrat Air Navigation Acts. The group provided specific examples of dangerous or unlawful practices, stating they were "particularly concerned that even a fatal crash had not resulted in any meaningful changes to management structures or practices at the airline." However after a 4‐day investigation, the Governor dismissed the group's concerns since the regulator had raised no issues and told citizens it was up to them to provide tangible proof of specific incidents.
A break in the case came when the group insisted the regulator was solely responsible for investigating claims, not private citizens. The regulator's CEO and COO telephoned the group the next day, after which, a working relationship developed. The regulator found sufficient cause to contract an Investigative Officer from the CAA's legal team, Des Nelhams, former Detective Superintendent of Scotland Yard. Under the regulator's whistle‐blower protection, many former pilots, employees and passengers provided statements regarding incidents and safety practices at the airline. The regulator found evidence of a management culture and practices incompatible with safe operations, resulting in the demand for changes to the management structure of the airline.
A director and majority share holder stepped forward as the nominated Accountable Manager, and the airline is making "progress towards targets" set by the regulator. However, the individuals responsible for the condemned management culture and practices continue to run the day‐to‐day operations. It is alleged that one of the management team will retire, leaving the remaining member in place. While the new Accountable Manager seems to be a decent person with the best intentions, the action group's position is that leaving part of the discredited team in place will not result in fundamental changes that will benefit passenger safety since the Accountable Manager can monitor the airline's operation from anywhere in the world.
As a vivid example of the continuing management culture, a senior pilot with 30 years experience approached the regulator's team during the latest inspection of the airline in February 2015 and said he would travel to the regulator's office in the UK for a discussion after his contract ended. This conversation took place in the presence of management. Just 2 days later, the same pilot claimed management approached him after his latest landing and stated they had 4 witnesses it was a "dangerous landing". Although the pilot had flown the regulatory staff to the island, who praised him on his landing at the time, the pilot said he "could see what was coming" and quit on the spot. He is now in the UK, waiting to be interviewed by the regulator.
The group's spokesperson received a letter from the airline's lawyer, dated February 4th, threatening legal action if the matter was not allowed to "rest". The letter claimed to reference details of a complaint sent to regulators and that the lawyer had "made a careful investigation of the several issues you had raised." The lawyer stated the airline had "chosen to deal with this matter amicably, at least for the time being..." As a result of this threat and with suspicion confidential correspondence may have been leaked to the airline on at least one occasion, the group decided to withdraw from its coordinating role between informants and the regulator. The group provided MNI Alive with sufficient information and documentation to have followed through on our investigations and run our first article and much more related to the events leading up to the fatal crash of VP‐MON in 2012.
In the coming weeks, MNI Alive will detail how the airline knew of design issues with VP‐MON, how the Governor requires pilots to have only 100 hours experience in similar aircraft, how and possibly why the airline prefers not to renew experienced pilots' contracts, and of the Government's continuing investment in the airline.
Some have suggested Montserratians should not expect "First World" passenger safety. At MNI Alive we completely disagree. With "First World" Air Navigation Acts, a "First World" Governor, "First World" regulators and "First World" management ("General Manager of Royal Jordanian Airlines" for 4 years immediately upon attaining a pilot's licence), the people of Montserrat have every reason to expect "First World" safety. While the country may require only small planes as a result of a small market and airport, Montserratians and CARICOM residents do not deserve by any means small safety.
Note: Read Fly Montserrat's Response to this article here