Friday, November 5, 2010

Is Qantas Heading For A (Financial) Crash?

Charlie: Ray, all airlines have crashed at one time or another, that doesn't mean that they are not safe.
Raymond: QANTAS. QANTAS never crashed.
Charlie: QANTAS?
Raymond: Never crashed. (Rain Man)

According to Wiki

It is often claimed, most notably in the 1988 movie Rain Man, that Qantas has never had an aircraft crash.[51] While it is true that the company has neither lost a jet airliner nor had any jet fatalities, it had eight fatal accidents and an aircraft shot down between 1927 and 1945, with the loss of 63 people. Half of these accidents and the shoot-down occurred during World War II, when the Qantas aircraft were operating on behalf of Allied military forces. Post-war, it lost another two aircraft with the loss of 17 lives. To this date, the last fatal accident suffered by Qantas was in 1951.

Still, 59 years of never crashing is an enviable record. Perhaps a lot of this has to do with luck, but no doubt also a meticulous planning and safety record. Over the past several years, however, Qantas has had too many near-misses and almost fatal accidents to justify the continuing comfort and reassurance of its past record. While “skirmishes” with varieties of Qantas aircraft seem to be on the increase, the immediate problem now seems to be its fleet of A-380s

Aborted landing because of a front landing gear problem:

An A-380 with a tire burst while landing in Sydney. Note the passenger’s comment, “the wing is on fire”. They’re lucky the plane didn’t explode.

And the latest incident just yesterday: has this report: Qantas rejects union maintenance concerns following dramatic mid-air explosion on A380 posted at 12.42pm today:

QANTAS has rejected as "outrageous" union concerns over the outsourcing of maintenance of its aircraft, after the mid-air explosion on one of its A380s.

Well last year I happened to have a Qantas engineer in my cab (yes, we get all the gossip) who mentioned the very same thing. I remarked about Qantas’ remarkable safety record, and he interjected that he didn’t know how much longer this would continue because of “cutbacks and out-sourcing”. In other words, he felt Qantas was compromising its safety record because of “financial concerns”. Now if the problem was relegated to the new A-380s, since most new aircraft have “teething problems”, that would be understandable. But two years ago The Daily Telegraph listed Qantas safety incidents since 2006. As far as I’m aware, none of these “incidents” involved A-380s, which were first purchased by Qantas in 2008 (to date they have six A-380s), and that is by no means a compressive list of “incidents”.

My conversation with a Qantas engineer seems to have been confirmed by a report in the Herald Sun yesterday: Qantas engineers want full probe

ALAEA federal secretary Steve Purvinas said safety was a growing concern for Qantas engineers with continued outsourcing of maintenance work. "We know that the dramatic increase in the number of safety incidents involving Qantas jets coincides with an increase in the amount of work that is no longer carried out in-house," he said in a statement.

In the past 10 years, Qantas has shut down every in-house engine shop in Australia, he said, leading to a reduction in safety standards.

Heavy maintenance checks - which occur over the lifetime of the aircraft - on the A380s are carried out in Germany, while other maintenance has been increasingly outsourced to Singapore and Hong Kong, the association says.

"We have seen some pretty horrid results of maintenance from the overseas facilities - things that aren't reported in the press," he said.

"A bigger (incident) we have seen of late is, last year they had three engines on a 747 that weren't bolted correctly to the wings and they flew ... this aircraft for a month or so after a maintenance check in Hong Kong."
(Emphasis added)

I sincerely hope that Qantas never crashes, because this airline has been a tremendous source of national pride for nearly 60 years, but as Simon and Garfunkel sang:

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.

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