There is nothing known about the QF 72 emergency landing at Learmonth WA two days that links it to the maintenance deficiencies already identified in the recent and damning CASA special audit of Qantas.

It may well be proven by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation of the incident, which injured or hurt some 70 passengers and crew, that there is categorically no such link.

But there are important questions being asked.

In 2004 a year after the jet entered Qantas service, a series of specific warnings and directives were made in relation to the elevator controls of the A330 type involved in the incident.

Such warnings and remedial injunctions are common in air transport. There are volumes of them applying to the world’s jet fleets of all types, and new issues and ways to fix them are routinely discovered and recommended.

Crikey has asked Qantas if it can categorically confirm that all the required maintenance procedures for the aircraft in question, and in particular its elevator system, were carried out in full and in due time.

Qantas says it is considering the question. However, a spokesperson cautioned that Qantas would not make any comment which could be construed as in any way seeking to influence the ATSB in its thorough investigation, with which the airline was fully co-operating.

The elevators, in lay terms what appear to be small flaps in the tail of the aircraft, are crucial to stable flight and keeping the nose pointed in the intended direction of flight.

The indication of an “irregularity” in the elevators seen in the cockpit immediately before QF 72 unexpectedly climbed 300 feet above its intended cruise level of 37,000 feet would have been of considerable concern to the crew.

As the ATSB revealed yesterday, it was soon after this happened, and the crew was following the procedure for ‘non-normal’ operations, that the plane dived steeply.

How the jet and the pilots responded to that dive, and then a second upset or dive before completing the emergency descent is under forensic examination by the accident investigator.

It is not a witch hunt. No other A330 is on the records so far searched as experiencing an identical incident. Important lessons may therefore be there to be extracted from QF 72.

But the maintenance question is a valid one for an airline that has committed immense self harm to its brand through engineering related failings as identified by CASA in recent times.

Was Qantas unlucky (in one sense) with QF 72? Or did it make its own bad luck, only to be saved by the excellence of its pilots?

Any further developments today will be posted to the Ben Sandilands Crikey blog Plane Talking.

Peter Fray

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