The Guardian January 26, 2000


Mobil fuels crisis of self-regulation

by Rohan Gowland

The aviation fuel contamination crisis, which has grounded some 5,000 small 
aircraft since the problem arose in November last year, continued to worsen 
last week, with Mobil again shutting down facilities that had already been 
cleaned, because they were still contaminated.

The contaminated fuel has caused the engines of small planes to stall in 
mid flight and there are suggestions that it might have been responsible 
for a number of light plane crashes in recent months.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is looking at the possibility 
that fuel contamination could have been responsible for the crash of a 
Cessna 172 at Gisborne in Victoria on December 1.

However, the ATSB said it did not believe that this crash or any other 
recent crash was due to fuel contamination.

The questions of whether fuel contamination has caused recent deaths and 
how this contamination was allowed to happen in the first place need to be 
investigated by an independent and open inquiry.

There is also the very important issue of self-regulation. Mobil self-
regulated the quality and safety of its aviation fuel. It is now clear that 
Mobil was aware of the contamination for weeks before it moved to ground 
aircraft.

Self-regulation has resulted in a crisis that has caused immensely 
expensive damage to aircraft, needlessly put lives at risk and has possibly 
resulted in deaths.

Self-regulation meant that even after the crisis was publicly acknowledged, 
government authorities allowed Mobil to continue to deal with the problem 
itself.

However, in January, Mobil told the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) 
that it was unable to identify the contaminant or to offer a remedy, so 
CASA and ATSB authorities have now taken over the testing process.

The crisis has particularly hurt rural and regional Australia because the 
planes affected are used for crop dusting, transport and deliveries to 
outlying areas.

The Democrats have called for the Airforce to be used to provide assistance 
until the crisis is over.

"Cabinet could consider mobilising part of the RAAF fleet for essential 
services and delivery of food to remote areas", said Democrats Senator John 
Woodley. Democrats have also called for a Senate inquiry into the crisis.

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