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ANALYSIS: Qantas incidents, a 'media beat-up' and the hole in the engine that wasn't

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

Is the airline actually in trouble?

In one of the aviation industry's worst years, 2020, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, outsourced 2000 ground handling staff as well as baggage handlers to company Swissport, which is used by airlines such as Virgin Australia, Air Asia, Air New Zealand, Rex, Singapore Airlines (Australian operations), and also many Australian airports.

The move was made to save the airline from economic turmoil during the height of the pandemic. However, the outsourcing to Swissport did not go down well with many Australians and the Transport Workers Union.

"Prior to the pandemic, Qantas was actively recruiting into its ground handling function and investing in new equipment — a sign that we had no intention of outsourcing," Qantas said in a statement.

Since Swissport's contracting, missing baggage has only increased from a reported five bags per 1000 to 7 bags per 1000, which begs the question, are some of the airline's "issues" exaggerated by some, particularly with its recent incidents?

What hasn’t been outsourced is standard maintenance in Qantas's Australian-based facilities, something many online appear to need clarification with following recent cost-cutting. Very few aircraft that require heavy maintenance has been sent to Singapore.

After Qantas sent its 717's to Singapore for heavy maintenance, questions about its maintenance standards were raised.

Recently, one of its 737-800s was flown to Singapore for a reason 6 News could not find - however it is possible for the same reason as the 717.

What must be noted is that none of the aircraft involved in recent incidents had recently undergone maintenance in Singapore.

The three recent incidents involving the Boeing 737-800s, QFA144, QFA101, and QF430 all resulted in the plane landing safely, and no reported injuries on board. The 737-800's are not to be confused with the 737 Max 8's, which suffered 2 fatal incidents overseas in 2019. The 737-800 is the workhorse of the Qantas domestic fleet, with the aircraft doing around five flights per day (meaning the oldest of the fleet have done about 38,000 flights).

QF144 and QF101 were flown by younger 737s, while QF430 was operated by an older 19-year-old aircraft. 6 News has not found either of those planes involved in any other on-record incidents

QF101 departed Sydney at around 9 am AEDT when the pilots received a fault about a possible mechanical issue. The aircraft later returned to Sydney at around 11 am. VH-VZQ returned to service later that day and didnot report any problems.

While operating on the world's second busiest air route, QF430 departed Melbourne for Sydney. While climbing out of Tullamarine, the crew encountered a cockpit warning relating to one of the engines, so as a precaution, the pilots returned to Melbourne.

The aircraft has just returned to service after being parked at Brisbane Airport for more than a month. Itcompleted a test flight on the 9th of January to ensure its safety. It was the aircraft's second service sincereturning from long-term storage.

QF144 has dominated the headlines, some of them completely false.

It was about an hour out of Sydney, flying from Auckland, when passengers heard a bang from the left engine, which the crew then shut down before calling a mayday. This was quickly downgraded to a PAN (Possible Assistance Needed), and the plane descended to a lower altitude before coming in for an uneventful landing. The aircraft is still on the ground as of the 21st of January, and the ATSB is investigating.

These incidents have also caused many false headlines and claims against the airline, including the ones mentioned earlier, to do with maintenance.

NewsCorp papers, plus the online website, have obtained images of what they say to be major damage to one of QF144 (VH-XZB) engines.

However, after consulting with aviation experts, it is clear that the image they are circulating does not depict signs of engine damage or engine failure.

What is depicted is a standard engine procedure after landing. The pilots engaged reverse thrust, which helped slow down the plane. Additionally, passengers heard a loud bang from the left engine, yet, the engine pictured was the right engine.

6 News contacted The Herald Sun for comment after creating multiple articles based on this image.

Multiple Twitter users have pointed out that this is a significant mistake. They have not responded, nor have they rectified or taken down the picture.

Last year - out of around 277,400 flights - Qantas only had six incidents, 3 of which were on the 737-800, and one was due to an issue out of the airline's control.

Comparatively, 6 News found that Virgin Australia had three incidents, just a few days apart last month and one additional incident earlier this month. Begging the question of why none were in the headlines nor were the airline's maintenance standards brought into question.

Geoff Askew, the former director of emergency planning at Qantas, told The Guardian, in response to the recent incidents, he "(doesn't) read anything into it."

It is clear the aviation industry and experts are unscathed and still have faith in the Flying Kangaroo following a set of irregular incidents, but were all handled safely by the national carrier and resulted in no major injuries.

Now, as Qantas rebuilds from COVID-19, it appears that bad PR may be a greater issue for them thananything else and that the airline may not be as poorly maintained and managed as it often is made out to be, with delays, cancellations, and baggage-related problems being very similar to pre-pandemic levels.

If anything, these incidents might reinforce Qantas's world-renowned safety record, which they won back from Air New Zealand earlier this year.

Some might argue that the "Qantas Saga" is nothing more than a 'media beat-up,' which is why it's essential to know the facts about the airline and the issues at play.

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