The profound reason I fly Qantas

There is a profound reason I fly QANTAS. Safety. It has entirely to do with the quality of crew training.

There is a profound reason I fly QANTAS. Safety. It has entirely to do with the quality of crew training. Some people will not fly a particular airline (make your selection), for some probably obscure reason. Many believe they have certain knowledge of a problem, or a garbled version of something heard second or tenth hand but espoused as gospel truth. Much better for all of us take an entirely different perspective.

First, there is one misunderstanding I should dispel. We all know about QANTAS never having a fatal accident but this is inaccurate. Until 1951, the carrier had eight fatal accidents with a total 63 lives lost. Considering aviation at the time and the length of routes flown, even this record was a relatively good. About half the accidents were in wartime, including one aircraft shot down by enemy action. The airline’s last fatal accident was 64 years ago.

From that time, QANTAS’ record is exemplary and pretty well speaks for itself, but the fundamental record is only part of the story. Space does not allow a full discourse, but four major incidents this millennium show something more: the highest possible crew training standards have contributed to aircraft in distress brought in to safe landings with no loss of life. In this sphere, QANTAS is second to no other carrier worldwide.

In 2010, QF32, an Airbus A380 flying out of Singapore suffered a massive failure in one of its engines. The UERF, or uncontained engine rotor failure (basically caused through poor inspection practices at a Rolls Royce factory) allowed large, heavy pieces of shrapnel to burst out of the engine. Substantial damage was done to the electrical and hydraulic systems, and to the wing structure itself.

That giant aircraft returned safely to Changi Airport and made a successful landing. This was greatly due to the ability of the flight crew to understand their aircraft. They were able to ascertain what systems were in fact still working, and to what extent. A continuous and confusing flurry of signals flashed at them on their instruments, but they worked their way through it all. Five cool heads in the cockpit, supported by world’s best training procedures, saved the day… and 469 lives.

Three other major incidents have been handled in exemplary manner in recent years:

A QANTAS Airbus A330 began unexpectedly porpoising off the coast of Western Australia in 2008, diving inexplicably, then climbing sharply before once again diving. This came about basically because of a series of incorrect commands from one onboard computer system to the flight control computer. A huge effort was employed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to establish the cause, the results of which required Airbus Industries to reprogram their huge international fleet.

At the time of the incident, unbelted passengers were thrown about the cabin, with many seriously injured. Once again, the crew maintained their calm, worked their way through the problem and diverted to a safe landing at Learmonth, rather than continue to Perth. Despite some serious injuries, all caused by the in-air event, everyone survived.

An exploding oxygen bottle caused a sudden decompression in a QANTAS 747 flying Hong Kong to Melbourne. Prompt action by the crew brought the aircraft down to a level where passengers and crew could breathe without the need for emergency oxygen. Despite severe structural damage to a wing root, training kicked in and the experienced crew made a safe emergency landing at Manila.

The fourth incident relates to a 747 flying London – Melbourne. What was basically a design fault in a galley drain allowed water to overflow and cause a massive electrical problem. Three of the plane’s four generator control units were put out of service. In this situation, there was a distinct possibility the 747 could run out of emergency electrical power.

Should this happen, the crew would have difficulty maintaining many essential operations, including fuel transfer. In a worst-case scenario, they may have been required to fly the huge jet on basic instruments similar to those in a light aircraft. They experienced a vast number of error messages on their electronic display screens but again worked their way through these, establishing what was working, and how well. When the aircraft was brought in to a safe landing at Singapore, there was about 14 minutes power remaining in the back-up battery supply.

I have every confidence in the training undertaken by those on the flight deck, as well as the cabin crew, to bring us all safely home. Flying QANTAS is far and away the safest means of transport I know.

What are your thoughts?