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QF32: Speaking of a major incident…

written by australianaviation.com.au | November 11, 2010
Open for inspection - a Trent 900 on Qantas A380 VH-OQC. (Damien Aiello)

There is so much that can, and will, be written about the QF32 accident, but being the newsophile that I am, I thought it would be interesting to examine the communications that have happened over the past week. In later posts I’ll talk more about the possible damage to the Qantas brand as well as the financial implications, but I think it’s interesting to analyse who said what and why.

First up, it’s worth pointing out that the accident could have been much worse than it was, particularly if large pieces of the intermediate pressure turbine had punctured the fuselage, rather than descending down to Indonesia’s Batam island. The damage to the wing and apparent issues with the engine and hydraulic controls, the pilots must have been relieved to make it back to Singapore.

Communication in this accident has actually been crucial in a number of ways. A number of news outlets claiming to have quoted Qantas spokespeople had initially reported that the A380 had actually crashed which, thankfully, wasn’t the case. But for most journos, the pictures of bits of engine and nacelle with the unmistakable Qantas logo on it that hit Twitter and the Indonesian TV would have been enough to fire off a few words, so it was essential that the right news got out quickly.

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In that respect, top marks need to be given to CEO Alan Joyce and his communications team deserve praise for their openness to the media and general public. The airline appears to have in most of its communications struck the balance between keeping everyone informed and not leading to wild speculation about what may have happened or the causes. It has also been very forthcoming with press releases, media briefings and the like to keep everyone informed.

(I should also give a massive thank you here to the ABC for running with the live crosses to AJ’s media conferences on News24. That made it much easier to file stories from my office in Perth than having to rely on the later transcripts.)

Qantas’s openness appears to be in stark contrast to the silence from Airbus and even moreso Rolls-Royce on this one. Rolls appears to again be working on being primarily reactive, something it also did when one of its Trent 1000s was involved in an uncontained failure during a ground test, while Airbus has been guarded with its statements.

Of course, there is probably good reason for this – neither would want to unwittingly stir up public fear of the A380 and its engines, particularly as Qantas is so far the only carrier to have grounded its full fleet. In that sense, I am sure both companies will address any issues once there is more known, but by the same token it would have been good to get a representative to stand alongside Qantas in giving out the information. That’s not to say that this hasn’t happened, but I think they could have been more on the front foot with it.

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The ATSB have also done a sterling job during what would be one of the biggest events in a while. Their media briefings and daily updates play a major role in reassuring the public that the event is being taken seriously, while it also provides good background for those with more technical minds.

Speaking of technical minds, I think the worst contributor in this conversation has been the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers of Association (ALAEA), which immediately tried to link the accident to what it says are declining maintenance standards at Qantas, as well as its long held opposition to offshore maintenance. At present, there is nothing to suggest that there is any link between Qantas’s system of maintenance and the engine failure.

This should have been an opportunity for ALAEA to stand with Qantas and actually back the good work of their members in dealing with the grounding of the A380 fleet. Yet, the old union mentality of being unnecessarily antagonistic and always taking the opportunity to run a public industrial relations campaign has unfortunately continued.

Of course, there is context to this, with the airline and ALAEA soon to start negotiations on a new enterprise bargaining agreement. It’s no secret that there is no love lost between ALAEA and Qantas in that area, and no doubt things will get nastier and we may see a return to negotiations by media and crippling strikes.

So overall, I reckon Qantas and the ATSB have done a top job with their communications, Airbus and Rolls-Royce have have room for improvement, while ALAEA’s comments were totally unnecessary at this time.

How do you rate the communications from the various parties over the QF32 incident? Leave a comment below.

7 Comments

  • Sarah

    says:

    Great post Ellis, I can’t agree with you more on all counts, in particular your comments about the ALAEA.

  • Chris

    says:

    Thank you for a well written balanced article!

  • Lex

    says:

    I’ve been 15 years in the Aviation Industry an one important think I have learned : “not jump to conclusions before the evidence speak by itself” and ALAEA is making a big mistake showing is poor point of view, Fortunately still professional people on the floor that knows that a true Aircraft Maintenance Engineer is not measure by a record or certificate but for his years of experience in the field and furthermore for keep in mind safety first.

  • Trojan

    says:

    I agree , as a union member I am apalled with the actions of our reps. They have lost all sence of reality.

  • Mick

    says:

    I don’t think the ALAEA ever said that this incident was a result of overseas maintenance. Whether you like them or not, just imagine the state of engineering in Australia if we didn’t have a strong unified group representing the engineers. Perhaps people in this industry should make a effort to understand where the ALAEA are coming from before comdeming them. Shouldn’t we be greatful for well maintained safe aircraft. Or is getting from A to B for the smallest dent in the back pocket the most important thing?

  • Geoff Ross

    says:

    Excellent coverage this edition. Rolls Royce and to a lesser extent Airbus, certainly have a problem, very costly.

  • Baard Maehle

    says:

    Good interjection, Ellis. I still think the people on QF32 ‘dodged a bullett’. What if it had ignited like the Concorde, given the engine debris that went through the wing? Batam would have seen the biggest fireball in living memory.

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