It’s not just Crikey that gets Qantas horror stories. CASA has received a string of detailed complaints about dangerous procedures and broken flight safety rules through its anonymous reporting facility and directly from the ground engineers and mechanics union.

Here is the latest example sent to Crikey this morning:

QF 12 departed Los Angeles on Thursday 21 August on time at 2230. Due in to Sydney on Saturday 23 August at 0605. Flight time planned at 14 hours 46 minutes from Sydney the aircraft diverted to Brisbane due to ‘weather and high cross winds’. A lie – the aircraft VH-OJT a 747-400 had been unserviceable in LAX for 2 days with a faulty fuel pump. The issue was not resolved and the aircraft left thus resulting in the diversion. Plenty of fuel on board but a busted pump which could not get it to the engines. The crew did an 18h30m tour of duty not to mention the transport and wake up time prior to operating. Mr Dixon spins some mighty fine cr-p through the media – the aircraft are in a very bad state and it’s just a matter of time. The lying to passengers is appalling as is the company’s failure to inform crew of aircraft technical issues prior to operating. The aircraft was due to return to LA a few hours after arrival without the problem resolved. This is fact.

This could be very serious. CASA and Qantas have not been able to respond to this information this morning, whether it is true or not.

If it is true, it adds to the concern that CASA is just sitting on a pile of damaging revelations about the airline’s procedures that may or may not be fully disclosed when its special audit into Qantas is released, with the latest indications being that it will take at least another week or more.

CASA has never officially conceded a public right to know about airline breaches of standards. It proudly and defiantly defended its non-disclosure of the substandard state of the Transair operation even after it killed all 15 people aboard a flight near the Lockhart River strip in May 2005.

The current minister, Anthony Albanese, and his immediate predecessors, have done little more than act as extensions of the massively resourced Qantas media relations division, and repeat company lines, something Albanese has extended to the failure of AirServices Australia to control air space, even over the protests of Qantas and Virgin Blue and CASA over their unhappiness with the situation.

A week ago Qantas mislead the media including Crikey into thinking that a panel that fell off an engine of a 747 on the way to Singapore wasn’t a safety issue.

Thank you to the Qantas pilots who subsequently pointed out that the loss of the panel meant the engine fire control system wouldn’t work , and that if there had been a fire, it could have burned the engine off the wing, or worse.

There is an awful lot of misinformation and more than a little media hype in relation to safety but it is impossible to ignore the chronic inability of Qantas to fly to timetable, keep its aircraft clean, and get all of the maintenance backlogs cleared.

It was like this for months before the maintenance workers banned overtime for 10 weeks, and still looks like a shambles. Could the airline really be in such a mess through bad luck or media scare mongering? Or is there really something seriously wrong that makes it chronically less able to deal with aged equipment compared to Northwest, United, KLM or other large carriers with similar types in service?

What does CASA know this time around, and will it share it all with the public?

Footnote: The head of safety for the Qantas Group, Captain Geoff Sartori, is reported as having resigned from the board of the Aviation Safety Foundation of Australia.

Peter Fray

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