The rude mechanics and evil management stooges at Qantas are at it again at Qantaslink, this time with folded boarding passes and paddle pop sticks.

They really are. (For overseas readers, a paddle pop stick is normally stuck into a frozen confectionery, see exhibit B and lower inset).

Exhibit A: A Qantaslink turboprop (foreground) in Queensland, photo David Blackwell
Exhibit A: A Qantaslink turboprop (foreground) in Queensland, photo David Blackwell
Exhibit B, an upmarket paddle pop stick application, photo Streets ice cream
Exhibit B, an upmarket paddle pop stick application, photo Streets ice cream

According to the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) Qantas should ground 21 of its assorted Bombardier Dash 8 family turbo props because the doors can be opened with paddle pop sticks, a claim that Qantas hasn’t actually rejected outright.

This is what the ALAEA says:

Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association
Media Release
Tuesday 26 October 2010
Qantas planes breaching safety standards with faulty
cockpit doors
Qantas are continuing to operate aircraft that have faulty security locks on cockpit
doors, putting the safety of pilots and passengers at risk, engineers said today.
Sunstate Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qantas, operates 21 Qantas Link
planes flying to 23 destinations all over regional Queensland, and between
Brisbane and Canberra and Sydney and Canberra.
The Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) said Sunstate
staff had identified the problem and reported it to management. But despite new
locks being fitted, the doors can still easily be opened with anything from paddle
pop sticks to rolled up boarding passes.
“Management are aware of the problem, have provided no solution and the aircraft
continue to fly in breach of the Department of Transport regulations,” ALAEA
Federal Secretary Stephen Purvinas said.
“Qantas Link opted for cheaper versions of doors that are required to be bullet proof and on the larger aircraft they fly, resistant to grenade shrapnel.”
Compounding the problem are orders issued last Wednesday, at Sunstate’s request, by Fair Work Australia, which put Licenced Aircraft Engineers in an impossible position.
“Qantas Link engineers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they look at the cockpit doors they risk being hauled back into Fair Work Australia by Sunstate, but if they don’t report any problems they could be subject to fines by the Department of Transport,” Mr Purvinas said.
“In May 2003 a passenger on Qantas flight 1737 Melbourne to Launceston and armed with 15cm wooden stakes overpowered flight attendants and tried to enter the cockpit before being subdued by crew and passengers.
“All it takes is one passenger to get past flight crew and force their way into the cockpit where anything could happen.”
The ALAEA is calling on the aircraft to be grounded immediately until the airline is able to comply with the legislation.

This is what Qantas says:

QF statement

This is what neither of them has said:

  • The ALAEA’s Queensland members are refusing to approval an EBA already agreed to by union members in other states. Thus the union is in the position of supporting them in their bid for more money than the union apparently regarded as a victory for its members in other states.
  • And Qantas is ‘upgrading’ the cockpit doors, and started doing so several days before the QLD EBA went gnarly, because although they met all the required safety standards they met them so superbly well that they are now replacing them.

Enter the safety ‘n terr’rism, total beat up factor.

There is ample anecdotal evidence that Qantas underpays its mechanics, starting with the fact that they are Qantas employees, and the airline can’t ever scrape together a dividend, and struggles to make as much money from actually flying (rather than selling ‘loyalty’ frequent flyer points) as Virgin Blue does with about one quarter the fleet.

But it wouldn’t matter if they were paid $1000 a day when it comes to management choosing to buy the cheapest possible legal doors for its cockpits. It is disingenuous to raise the lockability of the cockpit doors on Qantaslink flights when the more pressing question seems to be what goes on behind them.

In fact anyone who is A, very observant, or B, tipped off, would know how to readily unlock the supposedly secure doors to a cockpit without resorting to confectionery sticks or those boarding passes still printed on sturdier grades of thick paper.

How to use a paddle pop stick to eat an iced confectionary
How to use a paddle pop stick to eat an iced confectionery

Cabin security on airlines is in part as much a sham as is associating the issues with the determination of Queensland ALAEA members to get a better deal for their ‘unique circumstances’ than their interstate colleagues.

Update, October 28, 8.47 am

Steve Purvinas, the Federal Secretary of the ALAEA says:

Just a few points I’d like to make Ben.

The Engineers in Qld are being offered less than their interstate counterparts.

Negotiations have been ongoing for 18 months and this has not been an unusual length of time to negotiate a wage agreement with a Qantas group.

The Agreements usually run for 3 years meaning “wage negotiations” are usually in progress 50% of the time.

The ALAEA makes all safety issues public after we have tried to resolve them in house regardless of whether negotiations are taking place or not. Our record stands.

The “Industrial tactic” comments from Qantas always come out if we go public with a safety issue and are negotiating a wage agreement so this is their excuse about 50% of the time.

Because we may be negotiating at any point in time, does this mean Qantas can ignore safety issues during this period?

If these doors met the requirements, it may pay to ask the airline why they are in a mad rush modifying them all as we speak. Then have a look at the Aviation Security Regulations and note that they are only allowed to fly them back to a maintenance facility with special approval for that maintenance. They can’t continue to fly whilst they are waiting to fix the faults.

On a side note, Qantas link have stood down 6 Engineers for disciplinary reasons because they found the faults in the first place. Qantaslink claim that they should not have been looking there because they weren’t asked to. CASA’s CAR 51 makes it mandatory for Engineers to report any defect they become aware of. It’s a sad day when a Licenced Aircraft Engineer who is your on the job airworthiness inspector faces the sack because they report a identified defect on an aircraft that is in breach of Aviation Security Legislation.

Update October 28, 5.48 pm

From Qantas Group Executive Government and Corporate Affairs, David Epstein:

Steve Purvinas’ comments warrant a response.

A small number of ALAEA members in Brisbane have decided not to accept an EBA offer proposed by QantasLink. This was the same offer endorsed by ALAEA members in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney earlier this year and QantasLink will continue to negotiate in good faith with this small minority.
The Brisbane employees have already taken protected industrial action on two occasions. A number of employees have also taken illegal action outside the protected action, deliberately designed to disrupt QantasLink operations and inconvenience our customers.

The issue was referred to Fair Work Australia which, on 20 October, ruled the employees were involved in illegal action and that this must cease.
Six Brisbane engineers were directed not to attend work on 26 October while alleged unprotected industrial involving activities outside the normal scope of their work, and intended to place aircraft out of service, is investigated.
We regret having to do this, but cannot allow our operations to be impacted by the actions of this small group of employees.
We totally reject any suggestion that this direction was a result of any public claims the union might have been planning or has since made. Recent public statements by Steve Purvinas on this matter post date Qantas first considering this action.
QantasLink has made cockpit door modifications, which commenced prior to the union publicly raising the matter, and we remain confident in the security of the aircraft in question. Work on the final aircraft will be completed tomorrow.
It is irresponsible for the ALAEA to use this matter for industrial bargaining and irresponsible to try and scare the travelling public who have no reason for concerned with our security arrangements.
Our Dash 8 cockpit doors meet all regulatory and manufacturer requirements, compliance that was validated after consultation with the Office of Transport Security and CASA.
While the doors have always been compliant with the relevant regulations, if an issue is brought to our attention, and even though this does not compromise compliance, we were still obliged to take action to address the issue and further strengthen our aviation security. This is what we have done.

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