THE Royal Australian Air Force’s fleet of B300 King Air planes has been grounded for more than a month after aircrew were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in the aircrafts’ cabins.
The 16-strong fleet, operated from Townsville by 38 Squadron and from Victoria by 32 Squadron, was suspended from flying operations on June 30 as a precautionary safety measure after strontium chromate was detected.
It is understood the planes were used to fly politicians during the recent federal election campaign immediately before they were grounded.
Medical testing had been carried out on personnel who may have been exposed to the chemical.
A defence source said a maintenance worker at RAAF Base East Sale discovered a “yellow powder” in the air conditioning system about five weeks ago.
“Aircrew were not tested for the highly toxic chemical for over a week due to blunders in the RAAF medical system, and they still have not been given their results following blood and urine testing conducted more than three weeks ago,” the source said.
It is understood further testing revealed that all 16 aircraft — including eight based in Townsville — had varying levels of Strontium Chromate throughout the planes’ cabins.
“An attempt has been made to clean the internal furnishings of the aircraft along with the many pipes that carry the highly toxic chemical into the cockpit and cabin,” the source said.
“Cleaning did not remove all traces of the dust and they now need to complete the process a second time in an effort to remove the highly toxic dust.”
A Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokeswoman said CASA had received reports from the RAAF regarding potential defects in King Air 350 craft.
“The maintenance organisation involved have notified the manufacturer Beechcraft,” she said.
“CASA will continue to monitor the situation and work with the manufacturer, RAAF and maintenance provider.”
Number 38 Squadron has a strength of about 60 RAAF personnel as well as 25 aircraft maintenance contractors from Hawker Pacific.
In a statement, the Defence department said the RAAF had approved the progressive recommencement of flying of the B300 King Air fleet from tomorrow.
The department also said results from laboratory tests did not indicate any concerning levels of chromate or cadmium in aircrew.
“Subsequent cleaning of the fleet has been carried out and the aircraft will return to service throughout August,” it read.
“The Royal Australian Air Force remains committed to eliminating or minimising risks to personnel so far as reasonably practicable and will continue to monitor affected aircraft.
“There was minimal impact on operations during the short suspension.”
Originally published as RAAF fleet grounded over cancer risk