CASA warns Qantas on maintenance norms; a Qantas plane makes emergency landing in Frankfurt

Tuesday, September 2, 2008, 6:19 by Aviation Correspondent

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia, the country’s national aviation regulator, has warned Qantas Airways Limited that its “maintenance has fallen below the airline’s own benchmarks and needs to improve.”Qantas Airways, the national airline of Australia and also the nation’s largest airline, is based in Sydney, with its main hub at Kingsford Smith International Airport.

The warning by CASA follows an investigation by the regulator into a series of incidents of mechanical malfunctions involving Qantas’ jets over the past few months.

In an official release on the findings of the probe, Mick Quinn, deputy chief executive officer for operations of Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said Qantas “would be put on the ground” if the airline was not operating to approved safety standards.

However, CASA declared that Qantas Airways was still “a safe airline.”

After a two-week long review of the Qantas, the aviation regulator found that the carrier had to make an array of improvements in the way it manages and delivers aircraft maintenance.

The review involved a team of engineers, safety system specialists and inspectors.

CASA says it will conduct two “additional intensive audits” of the Qantas.

The first will be a full maintenance audit of one aircraft of each major aircraft-type in the Qantas fleet – a Boeing 747-400, a Boeing 737-400 and a Boeing 767-300.

The second audit will focus on the effectiveness of Qantas maintenance systems in managing and implementing directives on airworthiness.

Mick Quinn said in the official release: “Qantas Airways has been told to produce a plan to address efficiencies in meeting some of its own maintenance performance targets. At the same time, Qantas will examine whether the existing lines of authority and control over maintenance within the airline are delivering the best possible outcomes. CASA has acted to address emerging problems within Qantas and has looked carefully at the Qantas maintenance systems and performance and uncovered signs of emerging problems.”

“The review by CASA,” added Quinn. “found that maintenance performance within Qantas is showing some adverse trends and is now below the airline’s own benchmarks. By taking action now, future safety problems will be avoided. The wide-ranging package of actions that CASA has initiated will prevent any downward trend in Qantas’ maintenance performance.”

The package includes making the company test its maintenance authority and controls.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority also demanded a report from Qantas on how the failure to comply with airworthiness directives had been addressed.

Meanwhile, in the latest incident to hit the airline, a Qantas flight en route from Singapore to London was forced to land in Frankfurt, Germany, on the night of August 31, 2008, after a vibration compelled the crew of the Boeing 747-400 to shut down one of its engines.

Earlier in August 2008, many incidents of mechanical glitch involving Qantas planes had occurred: In one instance, a Melbourne-London flight of Qantas Airways was delayed by nearly 24 hours on account of a problem with a malfunctioning engine valve. In another, a Qantas domestic flight from Sydney to Perth made an unscheduled stop in Adelaide because the toilets were too full to flush. And, on August 17, a Qantas flight bound for Sydney from London was delayed by over 15 hours because of a problem with the plane’s rudder. Just a couple of days earlier, another Qantas jet had a maintenance glitch with a hydraulic failure which affected the steering of a Boeing 767 plane as it landed at Sydney after leaving from Melbourne.

One other untoward incident was related to an explosion in mid-air in which a faulty oxygen bottle tore a hole in the fuselage of a Boeing 747-400 jet flying from Hong Kong to Melbourne.

These successive occurrences had led to growing public concern about the safety standards of Qantas.

However, Geoff Dixon, chief executive of Qantas Airways, had, about a few days ago, reassured passengers that the airline was safe to fly after announcing that it had earned a profit of $969 million.