A Happy Birthday….or not…

When we used to have a blog at the Plane Crazy Down Under show’s website, my co-host Steve Visscher posted this article about our friends at the Airplane Geeks Podcast. I’ve posted it here to preserve his words so they weren’t lost when the blog was shut down.

It seems that QANTAS is never far from the news these days, and lately, it has been for all the wrong reasons.  In this, the week that is meant to celebrate their 90th birthday, much of the partying has been overshadowed by two in flight engine failures in the space of three days.  And worse, that brings the total to three since the start of September.  So the question is,  are these engine failures are the result of falling maintenance standards?  And if the answer comes back as “yes”, then to what extent can such a fall in standards be attributed to overseas outsourcing of maintenance?

It has become a hotbed topic of discussion in the aviation sector, as it has in many other industries here in Australia, and around the world.  In the case of the Flying Kangaroo, there are multiple factors at work here with interesting points of view being expressed from both sides of the fence.  The QANTAS  media machine has kicked into overdrive and is out selling the “safety first” message to anyone who’ll listen, but they are facing a sceptical public who is becoming accustomed to seeing images of badly damaged engines on even the most modern aircraft in the fleet.

To a certain extent, QANTAS finds itself in a lose/lose situation here.  They are a publicly traded company and as such, have a large and almost overriding responsibility to maximise return to their share holders.  On the other hand, they have previously enjoyed a long history for having a sterling safety record.  As we see in many industries, it often becomes tempting for executives to focus solely on the immediacy of the next profit report.  So naturally it follows that the “safety first” mantra is clouded by the “safety costs money” theory instead.

But why have QANTAS become seemingly the flag carrier for maintenance problems over recent years?  Their main rival, Virgin Blue, also out sources a very large percentage of it’s maintenance to overseas companies, yet we are not seeing the sort of constant in flight engine failures hit the news each week from them.  So what are they doing so right that their rival are appearing to fail at?

And why does QANTAS not management not appear to realise that by spending more on maintenance;  by keeping maintenance operations in Australia and keeping standards back at the levels they were once famed throughout the world for, is a far better look for them and one which will ultimately bring them more custom.  After all, anyone who chooses to fly with them knows that by doing so they are supposedly paying a premium price for a premium service.  This premium service must extend far beyond the drinks trolley and in flight movie.

The answers to all these questions, and many more besides, need to be examined by a higher authority.  In this case, we have the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.  But perhaps there should be a Governmental level inquiry with the brief and power to thoroughly examine all facets of maintenance operations in this country.  With the ever increasing importance of air travel been seen in 21st century Australia, it is imperative that government ensures standards & compliance levels are of the highest levels.  To allow anything less is to run the risk of major damage to not only the reputation of our airlines, but to the reputation of our country and the hundreds of industry sectors that rely on the airlines to survive.

Our airlines are now larger and busier than at any other time in our history.  They are also operating in an environment of competition that places huge pressures on them in many ways.  There will be lessons learned over time from the recent flood of bad news from QANTAS, and the airlines as a whole risk ignorance of them at their peril.

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