Some critical omissions were contained in Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s widely reported claims that public concerns about the safety of the airline are unwarranted.

These include a special audit of Qantas by CASA conducted in August that found it was failing to adhere to its own safety standards and that the situation was deteriorating.

During that audit Qantas discovered it had missed a critical air worthiness directive to strengthen the forward pressure bulkhead of the six aged Boeing 737-400s that did most of its jet services from Canberra for five years.

On that occasion, the airline insisted this was not a safety issue, leaving the public with the option of choosing between what must have been either deliberate misinformation or total ignorance of its obligations to carry out mandatory safety procedures.

Joyce overlooked a string of breaches of safety and maintenance standards that led to incidents including:

  • An emergency landing by QF2, a Boeing 747-400, at Bangkok on 7 January after multiple electrical failures causing it to rely on battery paper with only minutes of power remaining.
  • A botched aborted landing in fog by a Jetstar A320 at Melbourne on 21 July 2007.
  • A fuel control error on a Boeing 737 flying from Perth to Sydney that wasn’t discovered until the jet was at risk of becoming a glider near Swan Hill.
  • The supposedly ‘trivial’ loss of an engine cover on a 747 that meant the in-flight engine fire control system was inoperable.

The Jetstar incident occurred while Joyce was the budget carrier’s CEO. The airline failed to report the incident to CASA until five days after it occurred. It did not begin its own internal investigation until around 2 August 2007. The ATSB did not begin an on-going investigation of the incident until 11 September after the circumstances of what was a very serious case of incompetent flight operations was raised in Crikey and in Aviation Business.

Substandard flight operations are the sole responsibility of an airline, and Jetstar under Joyce did not, as he has admitted in a statement, communicate as well as it should have with the ATSB.

The QF 2 incident led to the discovery that Qantas, seemingly alone among airlines, had suffered an epidemic of leaking “drip shields” on its 747s which posed the risk of causing short circuits, and had spread, somehow, to similar plumbing problems on its 767 fleet.

Well before the 10 weeks of maintenance overtime bans earlier this year took place, Qantas had become dysfunctional through delays caused by lack of spare parts inventories and insufficient maintenance staff to properly sign out departures and deal with an accumulation of deferred permissible defects that compromised its schedules.

Joyce insisted yesterday that “safety would remain the number one priority of Qantas.” Having amnesia about the true and documented state of affairs at the airline is not going to help.

Peter Fray

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