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Transat union fears discipline for talking
Airline denies that supervisor was warned about jet days before it was forced to land
By GRAEME SMITH
Tuesday, September 4, 2001 – Print Edition,
A senior union official says he's worried
about the security of mechanics' jobs at Air Transat after a local union
president disobeyed a secrecy order and commented publicly about the
investigation into a narrowly averted disaster.
"I just hope I don't lose any members because of this," said Richard Martin,
general chairman of District 140 of the International Association of
Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
"He was not supposed to say anything."
Jean Jallet, president of IAMAW Lodge 1751, which represents mechanics
at Air Transat's Mirabel hangar north of Montreal, told The Globe and Mail
on Sunday that a mechanic warned his supervisor about the Air Transat
plane just days before it lost power over the Atlantic and was forced into an
emergency landing on an island airstrip Aug. 24.
Mr. Jallet has also said the mechanic was so concerned about the plane that
he tape-recorded a phone conversation in which his supervisor overruled his
advice to leave the Airbus A330-200 on the ground.
The district union, to which Lodge 1751 belongs, issued a statement
yesterday saying it is unaware of any such warning or audio tape. Air
Transat also said it has no knowledge of such a conversation.
Mr. Martin said he could not comment on the existence of tapes.
"It's not completely we disagree with the [Globe's] story," Mr. Martin said.
"There was an order not to give any comment."
Air Transat spokesman Michel Lemay said the union's fears of disciplinary
action over the breach of secrecy are unfounded.
"We're not there at all," Mr. Lemay said. "It's very premature to say that."
Mr. Jallet did not return phone calls yesterday. One of his criticisms of Air
Transat had been that mechanics feel more pressure to approve the
company's 24 planes' airworthiness than they would at bigger airlines.
"Air Transat also wishes to reiterate that all airlines are subject to the same
maintenance and safety requirements," the company statement said. "We do
not compromise on these issues."
Air Transat has said it replaced an engine on the right wing of the Airbus
because tiny metal filings were detected in the motor's oil. The work was
completed Aug. 19 at the airline's repair facility north of Montreal, and the
plane flew 13 trips without incident before the engines lost power over the
Atlantic five days later.
An interim report by Portuguese investigators says the engines stopped
because a ruptured supply line starved them of fuel. Sources told The Globe
and Mail last week that the fuel leak was caused because two parts rubbed
Pilots around the world have since marvelled at the skill of Captain Robert
Piché in handling the plane after the second of its two engines went silent at
34,500 feet, 137 kilometres from the airstrip in the Azores islands where it
eventually landed. Mr. Martin said Mr. Jallet was disobeying a secrecy
order from his superiors when he detailed how the airline was missing the
necessary parts to completely modify the fuel line and an adjacent hydraulic
Mr. Jallet's comments echoed a criticism from the engines' manufacturer,
Rolls-Royce, which issued a statement last week saying the fuel leak
appears to be the result of Air Transat following only part of a service
bulletin issued earlier.
The head mechanic, who replaced the engine with a team of between six and
eight others, tried to follow the Rolls-Royce bulletin, Mr. Jallet said.
"That's why you'd get what what we call fretting, or chafing of the lines," he
said. "The mechanic was well aware that the service bulletin was half-done. I
don't know why they didn't have all the parts."
Mr. Jallet said an Air Transat supervisor disregarded the mechanic's concern
and signed off on the plane's release into regular service.
"My guy [the mechanic] did the right thing," he said. "When they tell you
something you don't agree with, you have to call them back and get it on
tape. That way you're covered."
Air Transat also reiterated yesterday that the employee in their maintenance
and engineering division who was taken out of regular service Aug. 29 was
not suspended, but rather given time off with pay.
"It is customary in the industry to hold out of service any person closely
related to the elements being examined by investigators," the statement said.
While any fuel leak is serious, the one that affected Air Transat's Airbus was
limited to the right-wing fuel tanks. Investigators are trying to determine
whether the pilots pumped fuel from the undamaged left-wing tanks to the
leaking right engine, causing both engines to quit. A portion of the
Portuguese authorities' interim report, released by Air Transat yesterday,
said: "Further metallurgical analysis will be conducted on the failed fuel line to
determine the cause of the failure. Further fact gathering and analysis will
Although the investigation isn't complete, Transport Canada has ordered Air
Transat pilots to take remedial training in fuel management and emergency
procedures for long flights over water. The regulator also directed the
Montreal-based airline to overhaul its maintenance procedures. The pilots'
first remedial sessions on fuel management will begin today.
Air Transat has been struggling to maintain its reputation in the wake of the
Some passengers already booked on Air Transat flights have tried to switch
airlines, and the company reported last week that reservations are down 5
per cent from the same period last year. The parent company's stock price,
battered all week by high trading volumes, has lost 11 per cent of its value
since the incident. The company is also offering travel agents a 20-per-cent
commission, significantly higher than usual, to place passengers on its flights.