Tiger Airways chiefs hold crisis talks in Australia

Senior Tiger Airways executives held crisis talks with aviation regulators in Australia on Monday as the budget carrier attempts to allay safety fears and return to the skies.

Tiger Airways Australia, a subsidiary of Singapore's Tiger Airways, was grounded for five working days on Saturday by Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for posing a "serious and imminent risk to air safety".

Group president and chief executive Tony Davis jetted in after being handed responsibility for getting planes back in the air.

In a statement to the Singapore Stock Exchange, Tiger said Davis had been instructed to focus on "assisting Tiger Airways Australia to resume operations as soon as possible".

CASA grounded the airline after a flight approached an airport too low last week and after warning of concerns in areas including pilot proficiency, training and checking, and fatigue management.

Chin Yau Seng, previously divisional vice president of cabin crew operations at Singapore Airlines, was appointed an additional executive director to help out.

"Our goal is to resume our services as quickly as possible whilst restoring the confidence of both CASA and the Australian public at large that safety underpins our operations at all times," Tiger said.

It stressed that only Australian domestic services were affected and not flights to Singapore.

In a sign it is confident of returning to normal services, the airline was still taking bookings and accepting payments for domestic flights from Saturday - the day the suspension is due to expire.

CASA can only ground an airline for five working days, and must approach the Federal Court if it wants to extend the grounding any longer.

The regulator said its next move would depend on what Tiger brought to the table.

"That (meeting) will obviously be an important step in the process of investigating the recent several incidents and also canvassing the broader safety issues which we've raised with them," said CASA spokesman Peter Gibson.

"We certainly can't rush matters, but on the other hand we do appreciate the public's frustration at not being able to know how long this will go on for."

Australian authorities have been closely monitoring the airline and issued a "show cause" notice in March threatening to vary, suspend or cancel its licence over safety worries.

It was ordered to improve the proficiency of its pilots, boost pilot training and checking procedures, address fatigue management issues and ensure "appropriately qualified people fill management and operational positions".

The final straw came when a flight approached a Melbourne airport too low late Thursday - the second such breach in a month.

Tiger estimated the suspension would cost it US$1.6 million a week and analysts said the airline could not sustain such losses indefinitely.

The markets responded to the uncertainty with Tiger Air shares plunging more than 13 percent in Singapore.

In Australia, Virgin gained 10 percent and Qantas rose 6.5 percent on anticipation that they would gain market share due to their rival's problems.

The Australian and International Pilots Association said the grounding should be a wake-up call for the industry.

Association vice-president Richard Woodward told ABC radio that when tickets were sold for an unrealistically low price, something had to give.

"I think we are reaching the point in aviation where they are trimmed right to the bare bones, where we are now seeing service suffer and these sort of issues coming up," he said.

mp/je

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