There is something grievously wrong with the Qantas response to the frequency with which the Rolls-Royce RB211 engines fitted to its Boeing 747-400 fleet are failing.

According to Qantas, in what is now a rut it has trodden about four times this month, the failures have nothing to do with the outsourcing of the heavy maintenance of these engines to a Rolls-Royce centre of excellence in Hong Kong.

They are purely coincidental and do not come with safety implications.

These claims are dangerous nonsense from an airline that has filed a fierce indictment of the conduct of Rolls-Royce in a statement of claims in the Federal Court in relation to the Trent 900 engines fitted to its Airbus A380s following the serious in flight failure of one of them operating QF32 from Singapore to Sydney last November 4.

It’s the same company.

The most recent incident was the return of QF2 to Bangkok on Tuesday night early in a flight to Sydney after fuel burn anomalies were noticed in one of the engines.  Most of the 362 passengers on board are spending a second night in Bangkok.

The safety issue with repeated in service failures of this nature isn’t the response of the pilots or the airline to the actual situation. Qantas has an excellent record when it comes to supporting stranded customers, and its pilots, although apparently considered too expensive by the airline, have always dealt effectively with the incidents, at least in its long haul international and mainline domestic jets.

The issue is where these Rolls-Royce powered jets fly. Which is long distances across the Pacific, far from alternative airports, and across the far southern Indian Ocean, where there are none. (Some Qantas 747s use GE engines instead.)

The platitudes are wearing thin when there is no evidence of real action by Qantas to identify any systemic issues with the maintenance arrangements it has for these engines, not that its airframe maintenance is entirely above suspicion after the dismal findings of the ATSB inquiry into the very serious electrical failure which occurred in January 2008 when a 747-400 also operating QF2 was fortuitously close to Bangkok at the end of its flight from London.

What is Qantas going to do to get rid of these jets, or restore its previous control over the maintenance of their engines?

And restore excellence to its Australian maintenance too. The report into the earlier QF2 incident makes its in-house standards look suss.

It is facile (yet correct) for management to blame Boeing for its inability to make the 787 Dreamliner work, which together with the A380s, were to be the key to shunting the oldest 747s and 767s out of service, starting  in August 2008.

Qantas had every opportunity to escape from, or ameliorate the 787 induced fleet crisis from late 2008 when it was obvious that it had been lied to about the capacity of Boeing to meet the performance and delivery requirements the airline had signed up for.

It is alarming to review the combination of an aircraft manufacturer which could not tell the truth with an airline management that couldn’t recognise the truth.  The obsequious acceptance by Qantas of each successive Boeing excuse for delivery schedule failure is inconsistent with any shareholder expectation that the airline is on top of what has now become the biggest fleet planning screw up in its history.

That is the message coming out of these in service Qantas failures. They are too frequent. The carrier has become unreliable. And just a bit too scary for some.

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