Sharp words are being exchanged in Singapore between a senior “airworthiness official” from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Singapore Airlines Engineering Company that comprehensively botched the servicing of a Qantas 747-400 last year.

But without our Singaporean spies, nobody would know.

At an official level CASA continues to display a permanent state of bliss over the safety credentials of Australian carriers ranging from lethal little killers like defunct Transair right through to Qantas.

This was reaffirmed in its “no problems” responses to the Channel Seven program Today Tonight’s completely accurate revelations this week of illegal repairs to the jet’s electrical systems by the Singaporean maintenance firm.
These followed earlier revelations of other serious maintenance failures during a “heavy” engineering check.

In reality, the discovery that the Qantas jet in question flew tens of thousands of passengers for more than eight months with seriously compromised electrics has jolted CASA. Bad electrics can bring down jets.

Bruce Byron’s real job as CEO of CASA is to prevent his minister having to deal with the consequences of an Australian airline disaster. Crikey understands CASA is convinced that Qantas is as rattled as it is, and is therefore fulfilling its obligations to effectively manage safety standards by giving the faulty service providers a hard time.

That process so far this year has involved Qantas pursuing both the Singapore facility and the Lufthansa Technik facility in the Philippines over dodgy work that had been outsourced to them.

The German owned affiliate had sealed off the main emergency oxygen supply in a near new Qantas A330, one of those incomprehensibly stupid things that one might expect from technicians unable to read the instructions in a maintenance manual.

The problems of outsourced maintenance standards are not unique to Qantas. Airlines that don’t secure competitive maintenance deals are crippled in the remorseless game of matching their rivals operating costs.

But some apologists for the Qantas experience in Singapore blame it on older jets. The large Asian maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities work perfectly for Asian carriers with ten year depreciation rules who fly very young trouble free fleets.

If confronted with much older jets, like some of those Qantas is scrambling to replace with its massive order from Boeing 787s, the quick, cheap and reliable process of semi-automated fault diagnosis and parts replacement enjoyed by Singapore Airlines or Emirates breaks down. Maybe Qantas should keep the responsibility for its veteran jets in-house until they can be scrapped.

However, age doesn’t explain an embarrassing nose-wheel failure suffered by a young Virgin Blue owned Polynesian Blue 737 at Sydney last Saturday night.

The jet ended up in the grass beside the runway on which it has started its take-off roll for Christchurch. The low speed unreported drama didn’t cause any passenger injuries, but is listed as a “serious incident investigation” on the Department of Transport web site this morning.

The crew noticed the jet pulling to the right, and abandoned the take-off when it didn’t respond to the controls.

In the typical don’t-embarrass-the-airlines approach to these matters, Polynesian Blue was not identified on the department’s website except through its New Zealand registration ZK-PBF.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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