Did Qantas allow a Boeing 767 which had experienced severe turbulence before landing at Cairns last June continue its journey without completing all the mandatory inspections required before a return to service is permitted?

And did Qantas subsequently keep that jet in service for several weeks before completing those checks?

If the answer to the first or both questions is “yes”, then the airline and the safety regulator CASA ought to be in serious trouble.

But if the answer to both is “no”, then Steve Purvinas, the federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association who made these allegations, is in the hot seat.

The ALAEA under Purvinas has referred dozens of claims of unsafe practices at Qantas to CASA in the past 18 months that have been claimed to have gone without substantive answers.

The ALAEA is the union that broke Qantas management last year by refusing overtime and eventually winning a substantial pay rise campaign. That campaign took part within an extended period of obvious neglect of engineering and maintenance by the Geoff Dixon management team.

Clearly the new management lead by Alan Joyce as Qantas group CEO doesn’t sit well with the ALAEA either, but whatever their differences, it is the safety claims that need to be thrashed out, and especially the claims that CASA which is itself under new management continues to fail in its duty to scrutinise Qantas.

In a note posted on Pprune.org the Professional Pilots Rumour network, Steve Purvinas, the federal secretary of Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, says of the Cairns incident:

“The deferred checks included visual inspections of engine mounts, empennage safety checks for structural security etc… Now I am no award winning aviation expert but I do think that my 24 years as an aircraft engineer tell me that a mandatory severe turbulence check cannot be deferred. To defer it for several weeks until the next a-check for the above reason makes it far worse.”

However Qantas operations chief Lyell Strambi responded this morning that the inspection requirements are determined by the assessed levels of turbulence experienced by the aircraft, that this justified its continued service after the appropriate checks for that level were made and that this was supported by follow-up inspections.

Strambi has also rebutted the detail of another claim Purvinas has made elsewhere over engine mounts incorrectly installed overseas and has suggested a union payback is underway after Qantas sought orders in the Industrial Commission last week to stymie a threat of illegal action in another matter.

However beyond the ALAEA versus Qantas and CASA matters is the overriding issue of safety standards enforcement in Australia. Australia failed critical elements of an ICAO audit of safety oversight earlier this year, and has wide ranging remedial action to complete by the end of the year or risk being consigned to the same failed state status when it comes to aviation as Indonesia and Yemen.

Last year CASA did a special audit of Qantas which discovered that CASA had been clueless for years as to what was amiss in the carrier, and both the airline and the regulator brushed off as trivial a failure to complete gravely serious mandatory repairs on the pressure bulkheads of aging Boeing 737-400s for five years.

Under these circumstances air travellers have every reason to treat with caution airline and regulator platitudes about their exemplary safety standards whether made in reaction to union or public concerns.