Moving its maintenance offshore to cheaper Asian operators is going to be harder for Qantas to justify, with the airline now fending off three separate reports of damage to its aircraft.

On Tuesday, passengers and crew aboard a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles reported a loud cracking noise. The plane turned around and landed without incident. This morning’s Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Yesterday, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau spokesman, Julian Walsh, said: “Qantas are still trying to find the source of the problem”, but he said no connection had been made to the large cracks discovered on the rear of aeroplane in a maintenance inspection in 2003.

Qantas’s head of engineering, David Cox, said a thorough inspection had found no “structural issues” with the aircraft.

That “talking loud and saying nothing” strategy might divert attention for now, but anyone who reads the PPRUNE (Professional Pilots Rumour Network) forums will get a more detailed picture of what possibly happened.

This from one poster:

After an inspection they found a large crack in the fuselage on a production joint similar to OEC a couple years back.

Came the question:

Was the aircraft one of the other two ugly sisters [ugly sisters refer to three of the few second-hand planes QF has bought. Most planes QF buys are brand new, but these were three second-hand cheapies] and is the crack likely to be caused by stress risers, paint scrapers, unskilled and el cheapo offshore paint jobs?

And the responses:

If these cracks in lap joints are not enough to convince that third world outsourced maintenance is dangerous, then I don’t know what is.

The damage to OEC was a result of bad practices when the aircraft was repainted prior to joining the QF fleet. This work was carried out overseas by one of the previous owners (Malaysian/Asiana). The cause was metal scrapers being used to remove sealant in the lap joints. QF engineering are supplied ONLY with plastic tools for such tasks. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MAINTENANCE IS CARRIED OUT BY QUESTIONABLE FACILITIES OVERSEAS.

Geoff gets what he paid for. That cheap offshore maintenance seemed a good idea at the time. So did the Titanic.

If, as planned, Australia’s national carrier is grabbed by private equity firms who will place much greater pressure on increasing profitability, Qantas’s biggest challenge may be living up to its own reputation as the world’s safest airline.

Peter Fray

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