The serious events that overtook QF2 before it landed safely at Bangkok on Monday found a weakness in the management of Qantas rather than the design of the Boeing 747-400 which had 360 passengers and crew onboard.

Water leaking from a galley seeped into the one place in the jet where the power from generators in each engine is fed into the main electrical supply and shorted it.

It is now known that the flight was dispatched from London with electrical “issues” because passengers have said they were told about them before and after push-back.

Water was seen seeping through the cabin during that flight. And in recent weeks, other Qantas flights. Claims have been made that flight crews on recent occasions have been pressured to depart with known drainage issues.

QF2 touched down using emergency back up batteries in an incident without precedent on the databases for 38 years of commercial service by more than 1300 Boeing 747s.

The pilots are now claimed to have noted and dealt with degraded control surface responses while ground staff had to manually depressurise the cabin in order to open the doors because of insufficient power.

It is abundantly clear that this incident would have resulted in a ditching at sea rather than a landing at Bangkok had it occurred less than an hour sooner. The gravity of the incident cannot be ignored or downplayed.

The independent and intermittently courageous incident investigator, the ATSB, and the laissez-faire safety regulator CASA are dealing with the physical issues.

But they may go further. Why was the cause of the leak not discovered or fixed during extensive maintenance carried out late last year at Avalon (not Sydney as we reported yesterday)? Did the person who signed out the work carry out his or her responsibilities? Was the work done by properly trained people under adequate supervision?

Does the bonus driven cost cutting culture of Qantas pay more than token service to safety outcomes, or is it all dollars, dollars, dollars? If everything is in fact totally perfect with a carrier that can’t even put the right gas in its emergency oxygen packs, why do these and other screw ups keep coming thick and fast?

QF2 is a huge warning about problems that need to be fixed.

Yet Qantas is a very big success story. It has created more jobs than it has culled since it was listed in 1995, and this year alone will probably pay more in taxes than it ever cost taxpayers in losses under post-war government ownership up to privatisation 15 years ago.

Despite, or perhaps because of, open slather competition policies, it holds two thirds of the domestic market and one third of the international trade without the advantages of minimal finance or taxation costs that assist its key competitors.

It is a tremendous achievement. And it can all be snuffed out in a moment by greed, or stupidity, which inevitably, and in aviation law, leads to the actions or inactions of management, and the regulators who are charged with enforcing safety standards.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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