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Qantas, CASA hit back at Senate hearing claims

written by australianaviation.com.au | March 17, 2014
Heavy maintenance of Qantas's A380s is performed offshore.
Heavy maintenance of Qantas’s A380s is performed offshore.

Qantas has issued a detailed rebuttal of claims made about it at a Senate enquiry hearing on Friday, while CASA too has rejected claims that it is too close to Qantas and that it has failed in its regulatory oversight of Qantas’s offshore maintenance.

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s inquiry named ‘Qantas’s future as a strong national carrier supporting jobs in Australia’ has been established to “consider what initiatives can be taken by the government to ensure Qantas remains a strong national carrier supporting aviation jobs in Australia…” and heard evidence in a public hearing in Sydney on Friday from senior Qantas executives including CEO Alan Joyce and senior figures from unions representing Qantas workers, including ALAEA (Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association) federal secretary Stephen Purvinas, the ASU’s Linda White and the TWU’s Tony Sheldon.

The most serious of the allegations raised at the hearing came from the ALAEA’s Purvinas, whose written submission to the committee (which can be downloaded here) detailed claimed instances of issues with maintenance performed on Qantas aircraft at offshore heavy maintenance facilities.

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In particular the submission and Purvinas’s hearing evidence highlighted a D-check performed on 747-400 VH-OJG at HAECO in Hong Kong in 2008, where “A number of the mount bolts on three engines were found to have the washers installed upside down.”

It continued: “Three of the four engines were not held on properly. If any one of these engines had fallen off during flight a most likely outcome would have been the loss of the aircraft.”

Purvinas told the Senate committee hearing that the defect was not documented properly by Qantas nor CASA.

“I have a very dim view on CASA’s oversight of maintenance in this country and outside of Australia. We do not have confidence in CASA to provide effective oversight,” he told the hearing.

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Further, the ALAEA federal secretary observed: “I think they’ve been a victim of corporate capture. They’ve gotten too close to the airline. A lot of them are friends with people who work for Qantas. And I just think that [is] corporate capture, Stockholm Syndrome, whatever you want to call it.”

CASA subsequently refuted the claims of being too close to Qantas, and of failing in its oversight duties.

“We certainly do not favour any particular airline. We certainly do not turn a blind eye to any practices,” CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told ABC Radio’s AM program. “Where we have evidence of safety standards slipping, we step in and take action.”

In the particular case of VH-OJG the CASA spokesman noted: “As it turned out, it was one washer on one bolt on one engine that had been incorrectly installed. And naturally that shouldn’t happen, but that’s the scope of what it was.”

For its part, in its response regarding maintenance issues Qantas wrote:  “FACT: The union is again playing the safety card by compiling a list of maintenance issues dating back 16 years in an attempt to claim that maintenance done outside of Australia is unsafe.

“These claims have been investigated by CASA and these facilities continue to be approved by CASA and used by the world’s leading airlines.”

What the Qantas rebuttal did not address was the ALAEA’s claim that offshore maintenance facilities had unacceptably high levels of LAME to AME ratios.

In citing the example of SIAEC, SASCO and ST Aero in Singapore, the ALAEA submission reads: “The LAME/AME ratio at these facilities as previously reported by the ALAEA to a Senate enquiry in 2007 was one-to-11, one LAME certifying and for himself or herself and 11 other persons. We consider these levels of licensed supervision to be inadequate and dangerous.” The introductory comments to the ALAEA’s submission notes: “The traditional ratio in Australia is one-to-two, one LAME certifying for himself or herself and two other persons.” The ALAEA claimed that HAECO had a one-to-eight LAME/AME ratio, the Lufthansa Technik Philippines facility, which had worked on Qantas A330s in the past and today maintains Qantas A380s “one LAME certifying and for himself/herself and 22 other persons.”

Said Purvinas at the hearing: “What that means is the more people he [the LAME] has to supervise, he will not be able to check their work as well as someone who only has to check two people. It’s a way they make themselves cheaper…”

The hearing also saw Alan Joyce questioned over what structural changes and further potential job losses via offshoring Qantas would instigate if the federal government’s planned changes to the Qantas Sale Act passed the parliament, but the Qantas boss was noncommittal.

“We need for the future the same flexibility our competitor has,” Joyce said. “So if our competitor has the ability, which it does, to do all of its heavy maintenance, its call centres, everything, offshore then for Qantas to compete on a level playing field, to have the same options as that competition, it needs the same freedom.”

The ASU’s Linda White estimated as many as one-in-three of her union members’ 6,500 or so Qantas positions could be offshored.

“Anybody who doesn’t interact with passengers could easily be offshored,” she told the Senate hearing.

Tony Sheldon, meanwhile, took Qantas to task for not being able to define exactly where its planned 5,000 job cuts, announced on February 27, would fall.

“The workforce doesn’t know and the company doesn’t know,” Sheldon told the enquiry. “There has been no explanation of how Qantas came up with the 5,000. They will stick to the 5,000 no matter what.”

The Qantas response to “incorrect claims” made at the Senate hearing can be read here in full.

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8 Comments

  • Neil Hansford

    says:

    It’s about time the Union movement start giving up “conditions”, not wage levels, inconsistent with conditions in other markets in 2014 and get trade-offs with Qantas to have higher employment levels.
    its about time members tell their unions that they would rather keep their wage levels but give up restrictive conditions rather than give up their jobs.
    There is a median where jobs can be preserved and Qantas can be competitive.
    I don’t see the Unions offering anything to save the jobs of their members-I wonder why!!!!!!

  • James from Sydney

    says:

    Stephen Purvinas was the man who, in 2011, suggested travelers reconsider flying Qantas as his union would be calling strikes to disrupt flights. I believe it was around October and he suggested they reconsider flying “until Christmas”. I can’t believe a union leader would tell people not to fly with the airline that employs it’s members. Now he’s telling us aircraft maintained in Asia are susceptible to failure.

    This is the same narrow minded union talk that pushed Ansett to “save” jobs and keep them in Australia. I find it incredible that people such as Stephen don’t see this and that Qantas can eventually follow Ansett if we keep doing this. It will be blood on his hands and those around him.

  • Martin Hobson (LAME)

    says:

    There are a number of truths being played out here, the truth that the Unions see – reported to them by their members, the truth that Alan Joyce sees, reported to him by his management team, and the actual truth that everyone dances around and then necessarily places their own interpretation upon.

    The most important truth though is that if “Management” were actually managing, ie doing their jobs, rather than playing out perpetual politics and driving their own agenda, there would be no need for the Unions.

  • Neil P

    says:

    It’s about time the unions realised that they are NOT the ones who run the airline and stopped dictating how things should be done. If any of ALAEAs members have never put a washer on wrong or skipped a step then I will eat my shirt. The last time the ALAEA sabre rattled the sub standard work they did was made public in a very ugly way. They should try working with management instead of manning the trenches.

  • Brendan

    says:

    In 2008 Qantas management was asking Brisbane Base Maintenance staff to accept a suite of rosters, one of which involved a 14 hour night shift on a Friday night. The staff had been rejecting these rosters for the good part of 18 month with numerous management meeting over that time to try to get people to be “flexible” as they called it at the time and accept the deal. In the end it came to a Allan Joyce road show when he informed the staff that if they didn’t accept the deal, he would shut the maintenance base down. So as you could guess the deal got voted up as to save people’s jobs.
    Nealy 6 years on, not one of the rosters has been used and since then management has admitted that there was no thought put into the suite of rosters, whether it be efficiency gains or cost savings. Just a industrial relations exercise as they stated.
    And that’s just a normal day at qantas, that front line staff just want to do a honest days work helping a great Aussie company and management want to play games.
    I have a question for anybody that wants to answer.
    If Allan Joyce is so concerned about Virgin accepting funds from Air New Zealand to continue its “loss making strategy”, why is he outsourcing his own b737’s to Air New Zealand when there is room in house at Brisbane? Essentially funding Qantas own demise.

  • rr

    says:

    baloney.same problem in phil.few workers low pay

  • John

    says:

    Unfortunately during the years of the Dixon and Joyce leadership,
    a strong level of mistrust has built up between Management and staff.
    It has reached the point were Alan Joyce cannot lead Qantas out of this situation!
    I have no doubt under the right leadership, the Qantas staff would come on board and adress the issues, particularly some of the outdated conditions they still enjoy!
    For example the Jetstar pilots agreement is just over 40 pages, the Qantas long haul pilots one is over 230 pages!
    Jetstar, Virgin and Tiger pilots and flight attendants work to a roster, Qantas equivalent staff have the complex and costly bidding system!
    Having said that, the Qantas management team is well over paid compared to airlines in the Asia Pacific region, and that issue needs to be adressed also!

  • Reverend

    says:

    I hope Qantas gets rid of the old planes and adventurly get rid of the A380 and order A350 900 1000 and A330-300Neo or order boeing 787-9 and boeing 777-9 as well

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