Thursday, March 05, 2009

Three Qantas A380 superjumbos grounded in recent days

Even before these planes entered service, I said on various occasions that I could feel a re-run of the De Havilland "Comet" affair coming up. The Comet was the first of its class too. It was the first passenger jet airliner and it had an attractive design feature: Big rectangular picture windows for passengers to see out of. But after a while the Comets started exploding in flight. It was eventually found that those big picture windows were the problem. They weakened the airframe so much that it cracked and the plane disintegrated. To this day all airliners now have small oval windows. And the military version of the Comet -- with NO windows -- is still flying 50 years later: The Nimrod. It was a great plane except for that one fault. What will it be with the A380? Could be excessive system complexity. Everything on the plane is computerized and we all know how computer programs "hang up" at times. Frozen control surfaces at the wrong moment could be catastrophic. Problems are certainly coming thick and fast. I wouldn't go on one for love or money

QANTAS has been hit by a string of problems which have grounded all three of their flagship A380s in the past few days. One of the planes was back in service this morning, but the other two were declared unserviceable with a fuel tank indication system problem, reports The Herald Sun. "Qantas is an early customer of the A380 and naturally, as with any new aircraft type and like other operators of the A380, we expect the occasional issue to arise," the airline said in a statement. "We are working very closely with Airbus to resolve these but we remain committed to the A380 as the cornerstone of our new generation product offering."

The airline's first superjumbo, the Nancy-Bird Walton, was initially delayed for 19 hours in Sydney on Saturday because of a fuel leak. After repair work the much-heralded plane was cleared to fly the "kangaroo route" to Singapore then London. In London, it was again found to be leaking fuel and experienced a nose wheel ground steering issue. The plane was declared "unserviceable" and had to be grounded.

The episode comes after Qantas grounded the same plane due to a "minor technical fault" at Los Angeles airport five weeks ago. In the latest incident, the Nancy-Bird Walton was scheduled to fly from London to Melbourne as a one-off because of the initial delay in Sydney.

Passengers travelling to Melbourne on flight QF10 were delayed for more than 16 hours as a result of the dramas. One passenger stranded in London told News Ltd: "Lots of people were really excited to be going on the new plane. "Now basically they've cancelled the flight because there's a fuel leak. "It's a worry because it's brand new and a fuel problem is pretty serious." They eventually left London on a Boeing 747 at 2.24pm Monday, instead of the original departure time of 10pm Sunday.

A Qantas spokeswoman yesterday said repairs had been completed and the Nancy-Bird Walton departed London for Melbourne on flight QF10 at 11.25pm Monday local time (10.25am Tuesday Melbourne). The other two A380s were grounded in Sydney and engineers were ``currently working to resolve this and we hope to have both aircraft returned to service very soon'', the airline said. Of the two "unserviceable" A380s in Sydney, one was scheduled to be ready to operate QF31 Sydney-Singapore-London at 5.40pm today. The other A380 was scheduled to be back in operation tomorrow.


Risky decision

A FUEL gauge fault with the Qantas A380 fleet was identified mid-flight more than two weeks ago but engineers ordered the aircraft to continue flying the scheduled London to Australia routes.

The fuel gauge fault that led to the grounding of all three Qantas A380s earlier this week was first discovered on February 14, when QF 31 was in Singapore, en route to London from Sydney, reports The Advertiser. The aircraft continued flying the long-haul route for another two weeks before the airline's executives decided the fault was serious enough to ground the fleet.

The aircraft's manufacturer has since issued an alert to other operators of the A380 recommending action to fix the apparent glitch with the fuel gauges. It is not yet clear whether the flaw is a design fault.

On Monday, about 300 passengers were forced to wait more than 16 hours for their flight from London to Melbourne as another A-380 fault was rectified.


Sharks protected but what about people?

The usual misanthropic Greenie priorities are denying Australians a treasured part of their lifestyle -- surfing

Duncan Low stood forlornly with his surfboard on Avalon Beach just after dawn yesterday looking out at the "sharky" grey waves that he dared not venture into alone. A tall, blond, 15-year-old Adonis with a peeling pink nose and a wetsuit, Low has surfed at Avalon every morning since he was nine years old. But after the weekend attack on another teenage surfer at the popular northern beach, few people are game to plunge in, at least while the surf remains poor and the sky cloudy . "I would be surfing but no one else is here," he said. "No one's coming out because of the sharks. It's pretty annoying . My dad said not to go out by myself. He's heaps worried."

Andrew Lindop, also 15, is recovering in hospital after being bitten on the leg by a two-metre great white shark at North Avalon on Sunday. It was the third Sydney shark attack in three weeks. A great white also attacked 33-year-old surfer Glenn Orgias at Bondi last month, and just the previous day a navy diver, Paul de Gelder, 31, was mauled at Woolloomooloo. Despite doctors' efforts Orgias has lost a hand and Gelder a hand and a leg. With the Sydney attacks added to another three around Australia within 24 hours in January, surfers and fisherman have begun to dispute official claims and declare a shark boom in our waters.

Yet instead of sensible discussions about how best to protect human life and limb, the debate over shark attacks has taken a surreal turn, in which Sydney's waterways are deemed to be the sole province of man-eating sharks and tough luck to humans. "Dirty, stinking humans . scum of the planet and hopefully sharks will be here for millions more years after we're extinct" was typical of one misanthropic comment on a surf website this week.

The Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, has been telling people since January the ocean and the harbour are the shark's "domain", not ours, And lately he has been instructing us not to swim at dawn and dusk, when sharks are active. Talk about blaming the victim - when do most Sydneysiders get a chance to surf but before or after work and school? Surfing or swimming in the ocean is intrinsic to the Australian way of life. Humans have as much right to be in there as sharks. We have been designed to swim and are at home in the water.

Low waded in for a dip at Avalon about 7am yesterday but the regular ocean swimmers confined themselves to the rockpool. "I'd normally be out there," said Simon Abbott, 38, "But it's not worth the worry. It takes the edge of your enjoyment." The sky yesterday, as it has been for days, was grey and cloudy, with a hint of red just after sunrise, meaning poor visibility in the water, and less likelihood of spotting a shark before it spots you.

Another local, Warren Burgess, 69, declared: "There's too much seaweed in there. Every time it brushed your leg you'd be s----ing yourself." Burgess never remembers seeing so many sharks.

Michael Brown, director of Surfwatch Australia, a private helicopter coastal patrol service, said yesterday the explosion in shark numbers this season has been "unbelievable". He estimates an increase of about 80 per cent since last summer. Three years ago, he saw one great white a season. Last summer, he spotted seven. This year he's seen 27. And the sharks are bigger than ever - 3.5 metres and 4 metres long off Long Reef and Palm Beach. He attributes the population explosion to cold ocean eddies of five years ago, which brought a surge of nutrients from the ocean floor to feed a bumper crop of phytoplankton, which in turn fed the tuna, bonito and other baitfish sharks eat. Nice for the sharks but risky for humans. And next summer, Brown says, will be even worse.

It is of no comfort to the victims that the great white shark has been officially declared an endangered species. Commercial fishermen are blaming government protection of sharks and bans on commercial fishing for the shark boom. Large NSW marine parks created in 2002 have led to a local explosion in shark numbers, they claim.

What's more, shark nets that have protected Sydney beachgoers for more than 70 years are under attack from environmentalists. The meshing program has been a successful protection measure in NSW and Queensland, especially when coupled with drumlines - hooks attached to a float with bait designed to catch sharks near popular beaches. Yet in NSW shark nets are now listed as a "key threatening process" by the Government's Fisheries Scientific Committee. So the committee will be looking to get rid of the nets, while environmental and animal welfare groups ratchet up the pressure on the Government. And despite claims that the nets are useless, the evidence says otherwise.

Before the nets were installed there were 28 shark attacks and 15 fatalities from 1922 to 1936 in Greater Sydney, Dr John Paxton of the Australian Museum told the 2006 Shark Protection Summit. "The introduction of shark meshing in 1937 resulted in ending the fatalities on surfing beaches," Paxton told the summit. "There was a corresponding fall in the numbers of total attacks per decade. The shark nets were exceptionally successful and their introduction certainly justified at that time." Of course, nets are not foolproof, as shown by the attack at Avalon. They were never designed to provide a barrier between sharks and humans, but to deter and catch "resident" sharks which feed near popular beaches.

No one disputes that sharks are a crucial part of the ecosystem and no one is advocating wholesale slaughter. But if it comes to a choice between a shark life and a human life there just should be no contest.


Queensland police goons again

Cops use Taser on a young girl who was already held down! They must think it is a punishment device and that they are judge and jury

The CMC has blasted the Queensland Police Service after an officer Tasered a teenage girl at South Bank last year. The CMC (Crime and Misconduct Commission) has accused Queensland police of failing to learn from its mistakes after an investigation into the unnecessary Taser use on a girl, 16. CMC chairman Robert Needham said there was a "concerning pattern" in the handling of critical incidents and urged Commissioner Bob Atkinson to rein in his troops.

The CMC spoke out after overseeing an internal police investigation into the use of the Taser on the girl, who failed to obey a police order at South Bank in April last year. The incident came months after The Courier-Mail revealed Police Minister Judy Spence had sidelined the service's top brass and brokered a deal with the police union to give Tasers to every frontline officer. Ms Spence's intervention came barely halfway through a 12-month trial and in the middle of the union election. Yesterday Ms Spence's office said the minister would not comment on the CMC criticism until she had read the report. "I'm not expecting it to happen today," a spokesman said.

However Ms Spence's office reversed its stance and released a statement after The Courier-Mail sought comment from Premier Anna Bligh. "The Commissioner of Police has advised me the Queensland Police Service will completely re-examine every aspect of this entire matter," Ms Spence said.

The South Bank incident was one of at least nine complaints against officers for using Tasers inappropriately. The girl, 16, had defied a move-on order and was being held down by two security guards when an officer used a Taser on her thigh.

A magistrate later ruled the officers did not give adequate directions and threw out a charge of obstructing police against the girl. Mr Needham labelled the actions "very poor policing". "The commission expected the QPS to use the incident as a learning opportunity for the officer involved and for Taser training generally, but there is no evidence to show this has occurred," he said. "My observations of QPS failure to learn from mistakes are not limited to this case." He urged Mr Atkinson to "send a strong message to all police that they must objectively assess and learn from policing incidents".

Solicitor Margaret Brain, of Slater and Gordon, said she was preparing civil action against the police on the girl's behalf. "It was a violent incident that has traumatised her," she said.

Mr Atkinson acknowledged the matter "could have been handled better" and said police would "carefully consider" issues raised by the CMC. "It's probably the most severe criticism the CMC have expressed of the Queensland Police Service for many years, and that concerns me," he said. Police Union president Cameron Pope could not be reached for comment.


Surgery delay in public hospital causes man to lose finger

A Brisbane man who had to make his own way to hospital after a work accident - because an ambulance did not arrive - ended up waiting two days for surgery and lost a finger. Wayne Rogerson, 42, of Manly West, severed the middle finger on his left hand in a workplace accident at Rocklea on Friday. He waited in agony for an ambulance but after 90 minutes decided to get himself to hospital with the digit packed in ice.

His frustration continued at Princess Alexandra Hospital where he was prepped for surgery three times in two days. On each occasion the operation was postponed because of other emergencies. When Mr Rogerson finally made it into theatre on Sunday morning the finger had been thrown out. Trilby Misso senior managing lawyer Luke Short said the digit was discarded because by that stage it was unable to be reattached. "The surgeons had to cut below the first knuckle to repair the finger correctly," Mr Short said.

Mr Rogerson said his frustration with the health service and distress at losing part of his finger was made worse by election advertisements featuring Premier Anna Bligh promoting the PA Hospital. "I nearly kicked the TV when I saw the ad with the Premier saying how great it was at the PA. I am so angry about how the health system has let me down the first time I've had to use it," he said.

Mr Rogerson was equally frustrated by the lack of explanation from the Queensland Ambulance Service for not showing up at his workplace. "All they could confirm was that my case had been logged as call number 956," he said. But yesterday the QAS said it had experienced an unusually high demand at the time of the accident, just after 10am on Friday, responding to 80 emergency cases in an hour. "An ambulance was immediately dispatched. Four minutes into the journey, this ambulance was diverted to a life-threatening cardiac case," a QAS spokesman said.

A second ambulance sent a short time later was diverted to another life-threatening case. "At 10.44am the QAS received a further call from a man at the scene who reported the patient was becoming anxious," the spokesman said. "The closest resource became available at 10.54am and was en route to the scene, when the Communications Centre was advised that alternative transport had been arranged."

A PA spokeswoman said it was unable to comment because it had not been given permission by Mr Rogerson.


Mathematics in crisis as teachers go private

Advanced mathematics is disappearing from public school classrooms, leaving students able to learn only basic maths, because the few qualified teachers are being snapped up by the private sector. The shortage of maths teachers will become more acute as fewer students continue maths at university, undermining the nation's skills base in engineering, the sciences and technology, scientists warn. "The inequitable access to quality mathematics education is a national disgrace," the National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences says in a report calling for a national strategy to boost the discipline.

An estimated 40 per cent of senior school mathematics teachers do not have a maths major, the minimum needed to teach the subject to senior years, the committee believes. That is up from 30 per cent in 1999. At the same time, university enrolments for maths majors fell almost 14 per cent between 2001 and 2007.

The committee is part of the Australian Academy of Science. Its chairman, Hyam Rubinstein, said state schools could not compete with the private sector for qualified maths teachers. "Students not having access to (higher level maths) in government schools is really disadvantaging them in a number of important areas of study," Professor Rubinstein said. "It is just going to make the skills shortage worse because, even with the economic downturn, we need to replace our engineers who are all ageing, and we aren't going to be able to do that if people aren't doing mathematics at school."

The number of Year 12 students studying advanced maths has fallen 20 per cent, from 25,000 in 1995 to 20,000 in 2007. The proportion of Year 12 students studying senior maths has now fallen from 14 per cent to 10per cent, with the proportion taking intermediate maths down from 27 per cent to 21 per cent. In contrast, the proportion studying elementary maths has risen from 37 per cent to 48 per cent.

Mathematical Association of Victoria head Simon Pryor said: "Year 7 and Year 8 are critical years, especially if you are going to get kids to love mathematics." Mr Pryor said principals, hit by limited resources, were being forced to staff maths classes with teachers lacking maths qualifications. This year, Mr Pryor took a call from a young teacher at a Victorian state school who last studied maths at school in Year 12. He was desperate for coaching after discovering he had been given a full load teaching maths to Years 10 and 11.

While it is not new for the association to get cries for help from teachers with little maths training, Mr Pryor said he was surprised that senior school students were being taught by teachers lacking maths training. A senior mathematics teacher, who preferred not to be named, said unqualified maths teachers inevitably could only teach practical maths. As a result students were missing out on the higher, abstract maths required to go on to university study.

The National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences is calling for a national system of mathematics teacher registration. It wants school systems to be able to offer "golden handshakes" to attract mathematicians into teaching. It also wants schools to offer tenure to new maths teachers. It recommends a widening of the federal Government's HECS discount scheme for science graduates entering teaching to include other degrees that also include maths, such as computer science and engineering. It also wants the Government to crack down on universities and ensure government money specifically targeted for maths and statistics departments is not spent elsewhere within the universities.


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