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.
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.”
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”.