Tiger Airways chiefs in Australia for crisis talks

SYDNEY, July 4, 2011 (AFP) - Senior Tiger Airways executives were to hold crisis talks with aviation regulators in Australia 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".

AFP (FILES) In a file picture taken on July 2, 2011 a Tiger Airways plane sits on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport after aviation regulators grounded budget carrier for what they described as a serieous risk to safety.

It is the first grounding of an entire fleet in Australian aviation history and group president and chief executive Tony Davis has been given the responsibility of 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".

Chin Yau Seng, previously divisional vice president of cabin crew operations at Singapore Airlines, was appointed an additional executive director from July 4.

"The company reassures its customers that safety has been and will continue to be of paramount importance," Tiger said, stressing 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 is 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. If it wants to go any longer than that it must approach the Federal Court.

The regulator said its next move would depend on what Tiger brings 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 $1.6 million a week and analysts said the airline could not sustain such losses indefinitely.

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.

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