Safety watchdog blasts Qantas maintenance

Paul Bibby
September 2, 2008

QANTAS is failing to meet virtually any of its maintenance benchmarks and operational divisions within the company could result in essential tasks being overlooked, a review by the aviation safety watchdog has found.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s review found that although a recent spate of incidents involving Qantas aircraft were not linked, there were broad “deficiencies” in the airline’s maintenance program. It will undertake two further investigations to ensure the airline is meeting its obligations.

A spokesman for the authority, Peter Gibson, said the review found Qantas was only meeting a handful of its maintenance benchmarks, such as those relating to mechanical problems experienced during flights.

“The targets are about the level of reliability for the aircraft – such as aiming for a certain percentage of flights without mechanical problems – and we found that a number of targets are not being met,” Mr Gibson said. “Qantas’s targets are among the highest in the world so it doesn’t mean there is a direct safety risk. But they are signs of emerging problems that have to be dealt with now.”

In a clear sign of the seriousness of the deficiencies, the safety authority has announced it will undertake a full maintenance audit of one aircraft from each major aircraft class in the Qantas fleet – a three-month process that will involve checking all maintenance documentation and “physically examining the aircraft on the ground”.

It has also ordered Qantas to examine whether separating the airline into Qantas Engineering and Maintenance and Qantas Airways is blurring the lines of responsibility.

“They need to make sure everyone understands what the roles are, who they’re accountable to. The review found that there is potential for things to go wrong,” Mr Gibson said.

Qantas was quick to play down the findings, saying the issues were “not about safety or compliance”.

The airline said the failure to meet its own safety benchmarks was partly the result of the recent industrial dispute with the engineers’ union, and that the company’s business model was consistent with current regulations. But Mr Gibson said data provided by the airline demonstrated that the maintenance deficiencies were evident before the dispute.

The authority will conduct a separate audit into Qantas’s ability to implement US Federal Aviation Administration directives.

(source : the sydney morning herald)

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