Updated: FWA has issued the requested orders restraining Qantas engineers from performing the excessive safety checks

In an argument that invokes the Mad Hatters Tea Party Qantas is taking action in Fair Work Australia against its licensed aircraft engineers for continuing to perform safety checks the company says are no longer needed.

The airline makes some very sound claims about how changes in airliner design render the checks unnecessary although its pilots will continue to do walk-arounds of its 737-800s and A330s looking for stuff that just doesn’t look right.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association in turn makes a pretty convincing case that based on the routine detection of faults affecting aircraft, what Qantas is saying doesn’t work.

It says “… we found that only 11.7% of defects were found at ports with no licenced engineer present as opposed to 88.3% with one present.

“Having both a licenced engineer and a pilot do a pre-flight safety check led to 8 times as many errors being identified prior to each flight on average.”

This leaves those travellers who think about such things pondering questions as to whether Qantas might be proven dead right.

Given the trivial costs involved in the additional checks, which are part of the safety emphasis that the public values in the Qantas brand, this might not be the best issue on which to take a hard nosed ideological position against the union in question.

And how bad a look would it be if union members were to be jailed or heavily fined for insisting on extra safety measures, or if a jet has a very serious incident because of a defect that might otherwise have been picked up by an engineer?

It is true that newer designs have different, and in some cases more efficient and effective safety checking processes built into them. But in the bigger picture, the safety standards that used to set Australia above those of the rest of the world are sometimes being harmonised, or standarised, to world’s agreed best practice, and that is on occasion nothing more than weasel words meaning dragged down to what is also the world’s lowest permissible safety standard, because when it comes to aviation standards, they are one and the same.

The classic example of this was the removal of cabin life rafts from the Qantaslink Dash 8s that fly between Sydney and Lord Howe Island.  This did bring Australia into line with the rest of the world, but where no-one flies a Dash 8 over an oceanic route comparable to this one, meaning that passengers who take those flights to LHI are protected by the near certainty that they will drown if one of the high wing turbo-props ever goes down in the Tasman, and that they are according to CASA, not entitled to the same degree of ditching protection that applies to Qantas Cityflyer wide-bodies for the few minutes that they might be over water making a flight between Sydney and Melbourne.

(Plane Talking has in the past tried to coax CASA into explaining the merits of no cabin floor launched life rafts between Sydney and Lord Howe Island, but without success. The reform is a triumph of regulatory ‘conformity’ over the unique safety imperatives of the route in question).