A Qantas jet passes overhead.
Photo Credit: Qantas

Qantas in the spotlight, but is the focus warranted?

LONDON – Yesterday, another Qantas flight was forced to make a turnaround and return to its departure point of Adelaide, South Australia. Whilst the in-flight diversion was not caused by technical malfunction, it became the sixth incident involving a Qantas scheduled flight in the past week.

Qantas flight QF887, operated by an Airbus A330 registered VH-EBA, had departed Adelaide en route to Perth on the West Coast when it was forced to make a return to Adelaide just 45 minutes into the flight.

According to local news source Adelaide Now, the unscheduled return was due to a ‘paperwork issue’ which reportedly involved an engineering sign off for the aircraft.

Once the compliance issue was resolved, the flight continued normally. In this instance, there was no technical issue with the aircraft.

It has nevertheless become the sixth scheduled flight by the national flag carrier dogged by an in-flight issue in the last week.

Prior to this most recent turnback, Qantas international and domestic CEO Andrew David issued a statement addressing last week’s run of incidents, saying that: 

“Across aviation, there are diversions and air turn backs happening every day for a range of reasons. They usually reflect an abundance of caution and that’s why flying is such a safe way to travel.”

Given the fact that the string of incidents came in such a short timeframe, with three incidents occurring on three consecutive days last week between Wednesday and Friday; naturally the media focus on the airline has been high.

The broader perspective


In his recent statement Mr David provided a perspective on the incidents, pointing out that the Qantas Group averages around 60 air turn backs per year out of more than 10,000 across the total industry.

With respect to concerns levelled at the airline with respect to the shutdown of an engine on a Boeing 737-800 operating from Auckland to Sydney, Mr David provides further perspective.

He notes that globally, there are an estimated 400-500 engine shutdowns across all narrow body jet aircraft per year. Qantas’ shutdown rate on the Boeing 737 is well below the industry average.

For clarity it should also be remembered that, apart from this one incident, the other flight turn backs were conducted out of an abundance of caution due to a possible problem.

In that respect CEO Andrew David rightly reminds us that “aviation is built on safeguards, and one of those safeguards is that if something isn’t right, we take a conservative approach to the problem rather than pressing on.”

To reiterate Mr David’s reminder of perspective, the recent spate of turn backs – albeit occurring in a rather short timeframe – form part of a relatively low average when viewed in totality.

Yesterday’s enforced turnback which apparently came as a result of a paperwork oversight is perhaps something of an embarrassment after a week of media focus placed on the airline.

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