If it sounds like I have unfairly criticised Qantas lately – I apologise. It’s hard not to criticise an airline that makes such a good job of doing a bad job!
It was around this time nearly 19 years ago as a young and dumb kid that I was informally indoctrinated into aviation after I undertook a weeks worth of work experience at the Qantas flight operations training centre in Sydney. I spent a solid week in the back of the simulators while crews were busy preparing for the arrival of their first brand new 747-400. The first 744 was due on the 16th August 1989 and I was fortunate enough to be in amongst the mix of senior pilots who were training in anticipation of their first machine. I recall the atmosphere was quite electric. People were just as enthusiastic back then as current crews are now as they eagerly await the arrival of their first Scarebus Gay380 (don’t get me started on anything Airbus). Although my time there wasn’t the reason I got started in aviation, it certainly didn’t hurt. Qantas was a very different airline back then.
I’m now working with a Qantas competitor so my one-eyed approach to their operation severely impairs my ability to be fair and partial to the facts. You’ll want to keep my bias in mind if you ever choose to believe anything I write. Every time I see that signature kangaroo on their tail I now think of either a red-rat or road-kill – not because I think they’re a bad airline, because they’re far from it - but because they’ve let themselves go ‘Kirsty Alley style’ in such a way that they have completely lost the affection of a nation that once looked at the airline with a sense of national pride. Like I’ve said before, I think the reason they refer to themselves as the ‘Spirit of Australia’ is because either their operation - or the spirit of their workforce – is dead and buried. Again, I work for a competitor…
With the long run of engineering defects that has made headlines lately, the one truth that prevails over any other is that their pilots continue to do a fantastic job by demonstrating a level of proficiency completely inconsistent with the poor public perception of the airline. It’s nice to know that the pilots won’t let extremely low morale, commercial pressures or industrial unrest compromise the high level of professionalism on the flight deck. Other disciplines in the airline industry don’t necessarily share that same ingrained vocational need to discharge their duties as a perfectionist – and this is where Reason’s big block of swiss cheese starts to become more of a cheese melt . In any multi-disciplinary team, each and every department has an important part to play in the dispatch of an aircraft, and it only takes the shortcomings of any one group to adversely impact on dispatch or safety.
You only have to review recent Qantas headlines to get a feel for the kind of commercial pressures that aircraft engineers face every day. There is an ongoing threat that more and more maintenance will be sent offshore, which potentially threatens the livelihood of every engineer that works with the airline, and the uncertainly further challenges the way in which they discharge their daily duties. A survey run by an engineering union about 18 months ago reported that of the 1150 members who responded (including 800 from Qantas), more than 76% of them felt they were under commercial and management pressure not to strictly adhere to maintenance procedures. Thirty-eight per cent of those that replied to the survey said the pressure to cut corners was often something they faced every day. 81% of those that worked for Qantas felt their employment was threatened if costs were not cut. If the survey has any credibility, you have to wonder if safety has taken a cattle class seat in an attempt to artificially inflate productivity.
On top of engineering concerns, there’s the misdirected focus in management ranks towards backstabbingfor the CEO throne with the accompanying alliances and disruptive factions that invariably form in the lead up to a change of command. In addition to management issues, there is a massive disparity between Qantas and Jetstar working conditions causing industrial unrest in the pilot body, there’s the ongoing engineer’s pay dispute, and there’s the delays associated with delivery of newer airliner equipment. The media certainly aren’t helping the airline’s public image by way of the constant barrage of anti-Qantas hype they mistakenly believe warrants news. There’s no wonder employees aren’t happy.
If that old adage, “a happy worker is a busy worker” applies, then there’s every reason to suspect that the current run of engineers and admin staff aren’t overly productive. A friend of mine that works in middle management describes morale as an absolute all time low and says that promotional opportunity is a function of Dilbert’s theory… “staff are promoted to their level of incompetence”, and he angrily states that the less you do, the less that can go wrong, so the more you’re rewarded for it.
Anyway, here’s a truckload of additional pictures of QF30 that suffered the explosive decompression en-route from Hong Kong to Melbourne last week. Seeing these pictures clearly illustrates how fortunate Qantas was (once again) that the situation didn’t tickle the unhappy end of the safety statistics and result in the loss of life.
You can keep up to date with Qantas news at newsaviation.com.