Explanations for Trafalgar Centre's closure won't fly

VERIFICATION: Getting the facts right is a good starting point.
VERIFICATION: Getting the facts right is a good starting point.

Stuart Walker creates a parallel scenario to ask what's really going on with the Trafalgar Centre.

This is a story about a fictitious airplane that by pure coincidence happens to be called Trafalgar.

There was a town on an island that for 40 years had faithfully relied on an aircraft to carry people back and forth. After a couple of seriously bad storms, the Government decreed that all aircraft throughout the country must undergo an additional safety check, so the airline's board of directors asked their company's chief engineer to do this.

After several months, he came back and said that the plane's engines were 500 horsepower (only half the power required) and that if it encountered a storm while carrying a full load of passengers, it could fall out of the sky, and people would most likely be killed.

Although the board had faith in its engineer, it engaged other engineers to check his findings. When their reports came back, detailing the same engine problems, in the interests of passenger safety the board, in good faith, immediately grounded the aircraft.

However, a small group of resident shareholders thought, "This is crazy!", and started to look into the matter.

The plane had flown with full loads in all sorts of conditions without incident for 40 years. It was designed by reputable engineers and constructed by certified tradesmen, and had been inspected during its assembly to ensure it complied with the plans to meet stringent airworthiness standards. Anyone with any practical sense would know that its engines must already be the full 1000 horsepower to make it fly!

It had always had its annual airworthiness inspections done, with no problems. It showed no signs of metal fatigue or airframe cracking, and had been upgraded as and when required.

But the airline's engineer didn't read the aircraft plans or specification manuals, and wouldn't even talk to the designer, certifier or pilots. He just became more arrogantly entrenched in his stand that the engines were only half the horsepower required, and that the plane was unsafe to fly as a result.

This was confirmed by the other engineers he engaged to check his findings. They advised that it would cost up to $27 million to fit new 1000-horsepower engines to make the plane safe and able to fly again.

Then the chairwoman of the airline wisely insisted that the engineer check the engine horsepower again. This was quite easy to do - he unclipped the engine cowlings and read the engine specification plate.

Surprise, surprise - the engines were in fact 1000 horsepower, as per the design specifications.

In order to save face, the airline's board was faced with the dilemma of how to handle the serious error of judgment it had acted on by grounding the plane.

The engineer was asked to go and find anything else that may have been wrong with the aircraft, to justify the board's decision to ground it. He came up with the idea that one of its emergency exit doors was suspect and could be a "major" to fix, and that this alone was reason enough to ground the aircraft.

Then the board was addressed by a highly qualified American aircraft engineer from Christchurch, who had had a lot of overseas experience with such aircraft. He called the suggested spending of $27 million "scary and silly", and advised the board to "bring in different engineers to sort it all out".

But the sneaky aircraft engineers had not finished yet. They suggested that because the plane was parked at night on the tarmac near the sea, it was likely that the undercarriage had been be corroded and weakened by the salt atmosphere.

They stripped away all the covers and chipped away some metal near two of the wheels, looking for any weaknesses. But, alas, it was all in pristine condition!

They also sent engine oil samples away for analysis, to prove that the engines were worn out, but the official results of this are unknown at this stage.

While it would still be a "nice to have" addition to the fleet, the shareholders just cannot afford to replace the perfectly good existing aircraft named Trafalgar with a larger Dreamliner that a group of arts people have been proposing for the last 14 years. They have a name for their new $40 million aircraft - they would call it "Millennium".

The parallel scenario outlined above is exactly where we are at present with the Trafalgar Centre.

What is the hidden agenda? What on earth is going on here?

  • Stuart Walker is one of a group of concerned citizens campaigning to get the Trafalgar Centre reopened while a new Earthquake Assessment is done.

The Nelson Mail