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COVID forces hero captain Richard de Crespigny to retire

written by Adam Thorn | November 2, 2020
Captain de Crespigny (with technical log) and fellow QF32 crew member Captain Dave Evans with Qantas Engineering’s Cameron Young and Tim Gent, and head of Qantas’s Integrated Operations Centre Alan Milne. (Lee Gatland/Qantas)

Qantas captain Richard de Crespigny, best known for safely landing an A380 when its engine exploded, has revealed COVID has forced him into early retirement.

He said he took the decision to end his 45-year career after being “stood down and in limbo” since March following the airline’s decision to stop flying internationally and store its A380s in the Victorville desert boneyard.

Captain de Crespigny was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia after returning the stricken plane to Singapore Changi Airport and helping to save the lives of 440 passengers and 29 crew members on board almost exactly 10 years ago.

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Speaking to Traveller, Captain de Crespigny said, “COVID-19 has terminated my 45-year professional flying career.

“I loved flying the remarkable A380 and walking the aisles, meeting the passionate passengers who loved and supported us.

“I’ll miss the teams in the cockpit and cabin that together solved problems from bad weather and aircraft failures through to helping passengers in physical and emotional distress.

“I think the current situation will not improve until borders open, a vaccine is developed permitting high-density seating, and the public’s trust in their destinations are restored.”

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In June, the wider Qantas group announced it would cut 6,000 jobs altogether, or nearly 20 per cent of its workforce, and continue stand-downs for a further 15,000 employees. Two months later, the airline said a further 2,500 ground handling jobs could be lost if proposals to outsource the operation were accepted.

The drastic cuts followed the business’ full-year financial results showing a loss before tax of $2.7 billion and an underlying profit before tax of just $124 million.

Chief executive Alan Joyce said the results were “shaped by extraordinary events that have made for the worst trading conditions in our 100-year history”.

“To put it simply, we’re an airline that can’t really fly to many places – at least for now,” he said.

Captain de Crespigny was at the controls of VH-OQA when its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine exploded shortly after it took off from Singapore in November 2010, causing a major fire.

Despite significant structural and systems damage, Captain de Crespigny and his colleagues in the flight deck – Qantas’ first A380 and named after Australian aviation legend Nancy-Bird Walton – managed to return to Singapore Changi Airport for a safe landing. No passengers or crew were injured.

The double-decker superjumbo underwent significant repairs that took 16 months to complete and cost $139 million before it eventually returned to service in April 2012.

Investigators found the failure was due to a fatigue crack in an oil feed-pipe in the number two Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine of the aircraft. This led to an internal oil leak and fire, with the turbine disc eventually bursting through the engine casing.

In September, Australian Aviation reported that the Qantas’ A380 fleet may have seen its final international flight for three years after the last of the models being refurbished flew to a Californian desert boneyard on Friday.

The airline announced months ago that all 12 of its A380s would enter hibernation, with six of those being upgraded beforehand.

The Qantas A380, VH-OQI msn 055, departed Dresden maintenance facility in Germany as flight QF6006 at 10:36am on 25 September. It landed at the Victorville, California, facility 11 hours later.

According to the website Planespotter, which has been tracking aircraft hibernations, 10 of its fleet are now in the desert, with two residing at a special Qantas hangar at LAX.

In June, the Qantas Group announced it would ground 100 aircraft for up to 12 months, including most of its international fleet.

It said there was “significant uncertainty” as to when flying levels will support the return of the A380, and revealed it would defer deliveries of A321neo and 787-9.

“As a result, the carrying value of the A380 fleet, spare engines and spare parts will be written down to their fair value,” Qantas said.

Chief executive Alan Joyce added that the A380s “have to remain on the ground for at least three years until we see those international volumes brought back”.

14 Comments

  • David McKeand

    says:

    Well done Richard, enjoy your retirement.

  • Dave Stock

    says:

    Purely a political decision.
    Not one that fights Covid.
    Exactly the same logic which objects to fruitflies crossing the border.

  • Vannus

    says:

    Many peoples’ careers’ have come to an end due to this pandemic. Other folk have Retired from great careers’ for other reasons’, too.
    Capt de Crespigny was a true hero, who enabled a crippled airliner back on the ground, helped by other Tech Crew in the cockpit.
    I wish him well in Retirement.

  • Neil

    says:

    Enforced Retirement is hard to enjoy. Richard and, the countless Richards who were fulfilling their passion, when these Pandemic times ascended on us all, have few choices.
    Many will never fly again. Some will find a way if they are young enough.
    All those of us who are now, for whatever reason, grounded must hold on to the good 99% boredom happy memories and, be proud of the 1% of times, though scared wittless, we prevailed, relied on our knowledge, dumb luck or,the hand of God and lived to walk away from it and, to grow old.

  • Bill O'Really

    says:

    So give us the drum David. What would be your genius, non “political” solution? Have hundreds of people flying around in petri dishes going here, there and everywhere, spreading COVID 19. Making money for Alan’s empire airways, but killing people off slowly, but increasingly rapidly, as can be seen throughout the rest of the world. Genius idea David. Here is a tip, go and do a shift at Royal Melbourne ICU, or ED, just for one day, there’s a good chap. See, in grit terms what is actually happening. Oh, that’s right, the political decisions of Daniel Andrews put a stop to it, along with the sacrifices of millions of Victorians, so the ICU and ED has quietened down. But good to know that you know better, good man.

  • Martin

    says:

    Dave Stock: You write “Purely a political decision”. Well I am not sure about that. My impression is the decisions at both federal and state level have been guided by people with expertise in disease control. Sure, it has a drastic impact on the aviation sector and the people who work in it. But even if we conclude it is “Purely a political decision”, remember that we have a democracy here and every several years the entire population can decide by an election who they wish to have as their politicians. Governments on both sides of politics, whether state or federal, have adopted similar positions on border controls. They might argue with each other about implementation, but neither wants to see fatality rates going ‘ballistic’ in Australia as is happening in numerous other countries.

  • Lindy

    says:

    I LOVE the A380 and I love Richard’s book “QF32”. It’s not at all the planned ending to an amazing career but Richard is not the kind of person to let COVID make his life fall apart. I look forward to finding out what he does in ‘retirement’.

  • John

    says:

    I have to say, although it is sad to have one’s career ended for reasons other that that person’s own choice, Richard DC won’t be too far out of pocket. After taxpayer funded training, and 35 years of flying under a very generous contract with an early retirement package to boot money shouldn’t be an issue for him.

    I’m more concerned about the many young pilots in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, who have large education and mortgage debts, and many who would have young families, who are now looking at zero employment options in aviation for the best part of a decade.

    Even if they decide to retrain in another field that’s 3 years of study and several years of work at minimum wage, the last thing you need with a big mortgage and a young family.

    Richard DC was only 2 years away from retirement age anyway. He’ll be fine. It’s those who are a few decades from retirement I’m concerned about.

  • Terry Davidson

    says:

    Well done Richard, happy retirement.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your book QF32.

  • Wayne

    says:

    Congratulations to Richard on a remarkable career. Here’s hoping we will see you back soon in an A380 enjoying some leisure travel as a business/first passenger. Happy trails.

  • Neil

    says:

    I am not surprised. The moment Qantas started retiring the Boeing 747 s and deciding to place the Airbus A380’S in storage in the US Desert, unfortunately the writing was on the wall for Richard. What a waste of a highly Skilled Qantas flight Captain. All the Best in Retirement.

  • Peter Swan AM

    says:

    Congratulations Richard on your retirement after a 45-year professional flying career. As the Captain of Qantas flight QF32, that suffered an uncontained failure in one the aircraft’s four Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines 10 years ago tomorrow, you were the true hero in saving the lives of the 440 passengers and 29 crew aboard the aircraft.
    However, to this today, I am still somewhat puzzled by the fact that you failed the check flight on the basis that the flight was not concluded.
    Anyway, I wish you and your wife a long, healthy and happy retirement.

  • Ryan Hall

    says:

    Bill O’Really and Martin, well said fellas!!
    I gotta say I was shocked at the “political decision “ comment!
    Very well structured and fair responses!

  • Katrina Collins

    says:

    I also thoroughly enjoyed reading your books Richard. Our Qantas flights (many overseas as well as domestic) were always much-looked forward to. We had confidence and felt safe, and looked forward to maybe being lucky enough to have you walk down the aisles on a future flight, just as you describe in your books. We’re sorry you have been forced to retire early. In fact, we straight away thought of you when the Qantas announcements were made, knowing your skills & passion for flying. Now my husband & I realise, like many others, we probably won’t be able to fly overseas with Qantas again due to age & health reasons.

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