Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAll flights from India have been suspended until May 15, to take pressure off the quarantine system especially in Sydney and at the Howard Springs centre in the Northern Territory.
Scott Morrison on Tuesday also announced an initial package of supplies to assist the crisis-ridden country, including 500 non-invasive ventilators, gowns, goggles, gloves, masks, and face shields. The 500 ventilators are for rapid deployment – the government says there is a capacity to deploy up to a total of 3,000 ventilators.
With an acute shortage of oxygen in Indian hospitals, the government will also procure 100 oxygen concentrators, with tanks and consumables for them.
The suspension and the aid package were ticked off by the federal cabinet’s national security committee.
More than 9,000 Australian citizens and residents are registered in India including 650 considered vulnerable.
Morrison said the decision would affect two passenger services into Sydney and two repatriation flights into Darwin, involving about 500 people.
Last week the government cut arrivals and flights from India but has decided on the suspension because those coming from there are forming such a high proportion of the COVID cases in quarantine.
Morrison said 95% of the cases among recent arrivals into the Howard Springs facility were people from India.
He said the future of flights from India would be reviewed before May 15.
The passengers on all future flights, when and if these were resumed, would be required to have both a negative PCR test and a negative rapid antigen test before leaving, Morrison said.
Indirect entry to Australia from India through Singapore, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur is also blocked, because “we are aware flights to and from these transit points and India have been paused by the respective governments”.
Australia is restricting exemptions for travel to India to essential travel only.
Since March last year the federal government has facilitated 38 flights out of India.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australian posts in India “will be redoubling their efforts” to maintain contact with Australians there, to ensure they know about travel settings, any changes and available assistance.
Morrison said the government would also reach out to the local Indian community in Australia.
Asked about the position of the Australia cricketers now in India Morrison said they would get no special priority when flights resume. Priority would go to vulnerable people.
“This wasn’t part of an Australian tour. They’re under their own resources. And they’ll be using those resources to, I’m sure, to see them return to Australia in accordance with their own arrangements.”
The latest daily number of new cases in India reported on Tuesday for the previous 24 hours was more than 323,000, down from the more 350,000 reported on Monday.
Before last week’s announcement the government had eight government-sponsored flights from India planned for the month of May.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the decision to suspend flights “will be difficult for families, but it is the right decision at this time”.
While there is much speculation about the cause of the Ukrainian airliner that crashed after take-off from Tehran’s airport this week, killing all 176 people on board, there is presently very little factual information to go on.
Western intelligence has indicated a surface-to-air missile likely hit the plane in what may have been an “unintentional” act – an assertion Iran quickly dismissed.
As with any other crash, the world aviation community needs to know what caused this one in the interest of ongoing flight safety.
Political tensions between Iran and the US may make the investigation more challenging, but they should not prevent a thorough systematic analysis from occurring and the cause of the crash to ultimately be established.
The flight recorders hold the key to establishing what actually happened and why. And here’s where the political tensions are most problematic – Iran initially said it would not hand over the black boxes to the manufacturer of the aircraft, Boeing, or the US.
But new reports say Iran has now invited the US National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing to take part in the investigation.
Under the International Civil Aviation Organisation Annex 13 convention, the US has the right to appoint an adviser to the investigation, as does the aircraft manufacturer. The convention presumes a level of cooperation between all parties involved in crash investigations, which could prove difficult in this case. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a proper investigation won’t or can’t be conducted.
Responsibility for the investigation sits with the Iranians, but under the UN Civil Aviation Conventions, they can request assistance from any other country, if they don’t have the capacity to conduct it themselves.
There are many other countries with the necessary expertise to assist, including recovering flight data from recorders with very significant damage. France, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia could all help, for example.
Other countries can only step in, however, if invited by Iran or if Iran chooses not to conduct the investigation.
What’s most important is that whoever leads the investigation must have access to all the information – the wreckage itself, flight data, radar data, maintenance records, crew data, flight plans, load sheets, and passenger and cargo manifests. Otherwise, the wrong conclusions can be reached.
Why is a field investigation important?
There also needs to be a parallel field investigation analysing the wreckage.
First, investigators should be ensuring they have accounted for all the wreckage. If some parts separated from the aircraft in-flight, they may be found some distance from the main wreckage site and may hold key clues that could lead to a better understanding of the cause of the crash.
As such, the terrain under the flight path needs to be surveyed carefully to locate all items from the aircraft.
Clearly, it will also be important to examine the wreckage of the engines for any evidence of pre-crash damage.
For example, if a fire had been burning inside the engine cowling, there may be evidence of scorching. Analysis of the internal engine components should also make clear whether the engines were still delivering power when the plane made impact with the ground or if there was a pre-crash structural or component failure.
Investigators should also look at the wing and fuselage surfaces next to the engines for any pre-impact damage. If an engine failure occurred, there may be evidence of impact damage from engine components after they burst out of the armoured casing.
Analysing the aircraft engines, wing and fuselage surfaces may also provide evidence if the aircraft was struck by a missile.
This was the case with Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. There was clear evidence of the aircraft structures being penetrated from outside the plane by high-speed particles.
Similar forensic analysis can be conducted on the remnants of the Boeing 737 in Iran, even if a high degree of fragmentation occurred in the crash. This should reveal the truth if a missile was responsible.
Would Boeing’s exclusion hurt the investigation?
Of course, it would be usual for the aircraft manufacturer to be involved. After all, it knows more about the technologies involved in building and operating the aircraft than anyone else.
That said, there are many global agencies that also know a lot about the engineering and operation of the B737-800 plane, such as the airworthiness authorities in other countries, who could be called upon to participate.
No doubt, Ukraine will be heavily involved, as will Canada, due to the number of Canadians who lost their lives in the crash. So, if Boeing was excluded from the investigation, it might be a set-back, but not a show-stopper.
Boeing is, however, responsible for assuring the ongoing safety standards for the global B737 fleet, so whether it is directly involved in the investigation or not, it is imperative the reasons for the crash are shared with global aviation agencies, the manufacturer and all other airlines.
It is worth reflecting in these sad occasions that the purpose of a crash investigation is to prevent future incidents. Unless the actual cause of this crash is understood, any possible problems in the global flight safety system may go unrectified, making the risk of future crashes higher than it otherwise would be.
The impact of the crash on the families of the victims is also immense and immeasurable. This is another reason why a proper, thorough and systematic investigation is so important. It ensures those who have tragically lost their lives, and their families and friends, will not have suffered in vain.