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Qantas doesn’t believe in single-pilot aircraft, says Joyce

written by Adam Thorn | December 11, 2022

Andrew Campbell shot this image of VH-OQA at Qantas’ maintenance hangar at LAX

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said his airline is “certainly not pushing” to have just one pilot in the cockpit of its aircraft.

In a significant intervention, Joyce used the example of when one of the Flying Kangaroo’s A380 engines exploded mid-air to justify the importance of multiple pilots.

“We had five amazing pilots in the cockpit, and without that, I don’t think that aircraft would have landed safely,” he said in a new interview. “We know that, and we’re very conscious of it.”

It comes after more than 40 countries, including Germany, Britain and New Zealand, asked the International Civil Aviation Organisation (IATA) to help make single-pilot flights a reality.

The plan would save airlines millions in costs and help alleviate a global shortage of talent but has been criticised by planemakers, industry bodies and high-profile figures as endangering safety.


International Air Transport Association director general Willie Walsh said he doesn’t “ever” expect to see the move become a reality, while Boeing’s Southeast Asia president Alexander Feldman highlighted the “psychological barriers” in persuading consumers to go along with it.

In November 2010, Qantas A380 VH-OQA was involved in arguably Australian aviation’s most serious-ever safety incident, when its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine exploded shortly after it took off, causing a major fire.

Despite significant structural and systems damage, Captain de Crespigny and his colleagues in the flight deck — Qantas’ first A380 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.

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

This year, de Crespigny told Sky News host Peta Credlin, “The pilots don’t want this concept, the passages don’t want it, and I believe the aircraft manufacturers don’t want it.

“It flies in the face of risk and safety that we’ve developed over 119 years where aviation was one of the most dangerous forms of travel now — it’s the safest.”

VH-OQA, meanwhile, underwent significant repairs after the incident that took 16 months to complete and cost $139 million before it eventually returned to service in April 2012.

It was sent to the Mojave Desert during COVID-19 but is now in Abu Dhabi, receiving a cabin upgrade before it shortly returns to service.

Qantas had a fleet of 12 A380s and earlier signalled it would scrap two and upgrade the rest when pandemic restrictions eased.

VH-OQF has already been dismantled, with speculation that it will be joined on the scrap heap by VH-OQE.

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