When a cluster of incidents affect any airline, as has been the case for Qantas, with three in one day, it’s sensible to ask questions — but not to jump to conclusions.

Two turnbacks involved A380s. The first one was flying from Dubai to Sydney and was diverted to Perth two nights ago because of an air-conditioning problem. The second was last night, when an A380 was four hours into the long Sydney-Dallas Fort Worth flight when an electrical problem affected some toilets and seats and the in-flight entertainment system. It returned to Sydney some seven hours after departure.

In between, a Qantas 737 flying from Perth to Karratha yesterday had a smoke or odour issue and on return to Perth most of those on board were assessed, and some possibly treated, for smoke inhalation.

The valid question is whether these incidents reflect adversely on Qantas maintenance — that is, whether things are being repaired when they fail instead of dealt with by the scheduled preventive maintenance that is the backbone of sound airline operations.

However, for Qantas to convincingly answer that question in the negative, it would need to provide a detailed independent analysis of its maintenance scheduling and operational policies, and it couldn’t do that in time to satisfy 30 seconds live on TV or radio.

Result: the airline gets hammered, rightly or wrongly, over what might well just be coincidences.

Qantas is an airline that at a PR level has zero credibility. But that is no reason to accept all of the negative imputations some media can be quick to assign to every incident.

The right way is to look for context, not coincidence. Qantas would know that reliability is of critical importance to passengers, and one of the drivers of reliability is day-to-day maintenance and the detection and elimination of any issues that might impact on a flight.

That means that we don’t know if the last day or so has just been a cluster of unrelated failures or something that truly reflects on the operational standards of the carrier.

If the incidents continue the questions of standards may gain in legitimacy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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