‘Despite the hype,’ Qantas chief defends turnbacks

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has defended the airline’s quick succession of turnbacks in recent weeks, saying they were actually a symptom of strong safety systems.

There were six incidents in one week, the last a paperwork issue on a flight leaving Adelaide, and a Sydney to Fiji turnback following a report of fumes in the cabin.

Earlier incidents included the shutdown of an engine and mayday call from a flight bound for Sydney from Auckland. There was also an onboard “fault indicator” about a possible mechanical issue on a flight from Sydney to Nadi.

QF144 lands at Sydney International Airport, January 18, following a mayday call. Photo: AAP

Mr Joyce said despite the hype, the turnbacks actually highlighted the national carrier’s strong safety systems.

“Our pilots always err on the side of caution because that’s what we train them to do,” he wrote in an opinion piece – titled ‘Getting Qantas back to its best’ on the Qantas website on Thursday.

“If an onboard system isn’t working the way it should, they will often decide to land rather than pressing on to the destination.”

“I congratulate them for doing that and encourage them to keep doing it. And despite the obvious inconvenience, I think most of our customers do, too.”

The Qantas Group averages about 60 air turnbacks a year, or one for every 2000 flights, from more than 10,000 globally.

Mr Joyce said regional arm QantasLink had more, at over 200 a year, because it had more flights and it made more sense to return to a major city than fly on to a remote town where there might not be the same level of technical support.

“There was no change from Qantas’ average rate of turn backs before and after COVID,” he said

“If you’re flying on an aircraft that has an issue, it’s not because it’s not well looked after. It’s because they are incredibly complex pieces of equipment with many layers of redundancy.

“We will always put safety before schedule.”

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