Qantas is under immense pressure this morning.  A Boeing 747-400 has suffered an engine failure in Bangkok. The airline is still struggling to come up with alternatives for the stranded passengers.

The tabloid press has hammered the carrier for putting pressure on pilots to load the bare minimum of fuel, which is being blamed by them for an embarrassing diversion of an A380 into Adelaide while flying from Singapore to Melbourne.

The serious media, in the form of The Australian Financial Review, is questioning in detail whether Jetstar is in truth a loss-maker being used to undermine the full-service brands of Qantas and their “expensive” professional pilots.

And neither the pilot nor engineer unions have yet taken strike action,  leaving management in the lurch with no one else to blame for a whole set of fleet, product and network blunders that are of serious concern to the airline’s investors as well as passengers.

The fuel stories continue and rising problems with Rolls-Royce RB211 engines on aged Qantas 747s will not be news to regular readers of Crikey or Plane Talking.

Early this morning, on a 747,  QF1 took off from Bangkok to London but high temperatures and abnormal vibrations from an engine  forced a shutdown and return. The engine is the Rolls-Royce RB211, that Qantas uses in a unique manner on ultra long-haul flights, and had until several years ago, maintained to its own special standards at its own dedicate engine shop in Sydney.

But that shop was shut down in favour of a Rolls-Royce facility in Hong Kong, which apparently doe a fine job of maintaining them the usual way, not the Qantas way, and this morning’s failure adds to a string of uncharacteristic failures by the engine in Qantas service.

Qantas is also stuck with this combination of engine and aged Jumbo for years to come, following the failure of its fleet renewal program — which was based on a complex shuffle of  never-never Boeing 787 Dreamliners through the Jetstar and Qantas fleets — with Jetstar taking over a lot of Qantas long-haul where management says it is incapable of making money with the full-service products that Singapore Airlines, Thai, Cathay Pacific and Emirates all struggle to bank the money fast enough.

A Qantas statement this morning on the engine failure doesn’t address ATSB concerns that a modification program for RB211 engines on Qantas jets isn’t preceding as rapidly as it should.

In relation to the fuel embarrassment with the A380 forced to land at Adelaide, Qantas says:

Qantas has decades of long-haul experience when it comes to fuelling its aircraft.

Clause (d) of Civil Aviation Regulation 233 states that the captain is responsible for his/her fuel order. Qantas does not attempt to influence that decision in any way.

We carefully manage this part of our operations and our fuel policies meet all regulatory and manufacturer requirements.

All Qantas flights operate with appropriate fuel based on extremely detailed flight planning and forecast flying conditions.

Fuel is currently a significant cost to all airlines, and it is entirely appropriate that, within our carefully managed policies and procedures, pilots are encouraged to closely monitor discretionary fuel uplift.

We would completely reject any suggestion that recent diversions were as a result of an aircraft not being loaded with sufficient fuel.

This is a part of a campaign by the pilots union to get a new pay agreement.

This statement doesn’t explain how the A380 left Singapore with so little fuel that it had to land at Adelaide, other than to infer that a pilot did it deliberately to support an industrial campaign.  That isn’t a credible proposition.

Peter Fray

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