By now there should be a persistent warning light flashing in the cockpit of the good ship Qantas. It’s indicating that a large mass of brand confidence among the Australian public is smouldering strongly, emitting smoke and may be about to drop off the starboard wing into the sea.

A close-up of the stricken A380 in Singapore. Photo: AP

It used to be welded on but there’s definitely a crack appearing.

This week at Auspoll we thought it would be fascinating to test whether the recent run of technical problems which have plagued the Flying Kangaroo have made any tangible dent in our perception of the airline’s hitherto ‘safe as houses’ image. And it set the red light flashing.

It was Oscar Wilde who said ‘to lose one jet engine mid-flight may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose three looks like carelessness’.  Well, he wasn’t talking about jet engines really, but a great many other people are in recent days. And his essential point holds; one incident we might shrug off, another almost immediately gets our close attention, but when we get a third hard on its heels there is a strong inclination to perceive a worrying wider problem.

Jet engines are things few of us want to talk about or think about generally. Much better when they’re boring because they just work flawlessly, first time, every time. What’s to talk about? But a certain route to water-cooler topicality is to explode and burn while attached to the wing of a huge airliner full of passengers 10,000 metres above the sea. Gets tongues wagging.

We surveyed 1,500 people across Australia and firstly asked them to rate a range of airlines according to their perception of how safe they are. Qantas can take some heart from this with 69% rating them either quite safe or very safe. Before they open champagne in the boardroom however, they might note that of the six rival airlines we asked people to rate, three of them ranked higher than Qantas. And the strongest score - 83% rating it safe - went to their pesky rival Virgin Blue.

There is another irritating dashboard alarm flashing in the negative responses to this question. For five of the six airlines, the proportions of people rating them quite unsafe or very unsafe ranged between 3% and 6%. The standout was (sound intermittent siren) Qantas – 21% of respondents felt it was unsafe.

Next we asked people outright whether the recent problems had affected their confidence in our national flagship airline. Only a minority of respondents said the incidents had not affected their confidence in Qantas at all, with 40% saying they had reduced it a little and a further 25% saying they had reduced it a lot. Overall, 65% less confident in the Red Roo than before.

We also asked what people thought of the expanding competition on overseas routes with the entry of new players such as the recently announced alliance of Virgin Blue and Etihad. Australians are keen travellers and pretty savvy about looking for value. A resounding 67% thought new competitors will improve things for those heading OS.

And lastly we asked whether the recent woes would make people more likely to choose a rival carrier over once trusty old Qantas. Almost half (48%) said the incidents would make no difference, but the 41% who said they would make them more likely to choose another carrier set off the last warning light on the console. That cockpit must look like a disco by now.

On these results, the appropriate disposition for Qantas senior management about now would be both alert and alarmed. Put the fire out, give everyone a drink. Panic never helps.

Most commented


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    • Eric says:

      06:25am | 21/11/10

      Funny how all these ‘incidents’ started after Qantas outsourced aircraft maintenance. Perhaps keeping those jobs in Australia might have been a good idea.

    • neil says:

      11:08am | 21/11/10

      Funny how 96% of Qantas maintenance is done in Auststralia and most of the problems have been on 747’s which are mostly all serviced in Australia.

      Statistically you would have to conclude that it would be much safer to have all maintenance done oversea’s.

      I know I’d feel a lot safer in a plane serviced by methodical German Lufthansa Engineers than one serviced by lazy Aussie union hacks.

    • Bob H says:

      05:20pm | 21/11/10

      Once the outsourcing started, Qantas undermined its respect of local maintenance teams.  The maintenance crews now understand that outsourcing to the lower bidders is inevitable, which for people that only understand simplistic accounting mechanisms is a fair call but the reality is all of Qantas maintenance is now undermined.  Pride and effort in work is shown to mean nothing, so why bother.

    • marley says:

      07:40pm | 21/11/10

      Bob H.  Why bother?  Well possibly because it’s your job. And possibly because lives are at stake.  If those aren’t incentives enough, well, maybe we should be looking at more, not less, outsourcing.

    • stephen says:

      07:54pm | 21/11/10

      Yeah Neil, and it’s so good that everyone that day up in the sky made it home that night, and you can thank Aussie pilots, Aussie cabin crew, and that plane.
      And as for german methodicalism, that’s only an impression : they use they’re vowels differently. (Careful !)

    • marley says:

      07:48am | 21/11/10

      But how many of the people surveyed actually understand that, with the obvious exception of the A380 incident, most of the other glitches have been the kind of thing that every airline in the world goes through?  Is there any quantitative evidence that Qantas has more problems than any other major airline when it comes to faults showing up after takeoff? 

      And the A380 issue, for all the hype, is essentially a Rolls Royce issue, not a Qantas one.  The 747 that had to turn around the next day would never have made the news, had it not been for the A380 the day before.  Nor should it have been.

      I think, were I to nominate an airline I wouldn’t want to fly on, Air France would be a lot higher than Qantas on my list.  One fatal Concorde crash, one fatal Airbus crash, and a plane overshooting the runway and crashing into a ravine in Toronto.  Qantas looks like a gem in comparison.

    • Gerard says:

      12:19pm | 21/11/10

      If the problem with the A380 is a Rolls Royce issue rather than a Qantas one, then why is the media not playing up the grounding of A380s by other airlines? Is it because a Qantas problem sells more copy than an industry-wide one, or is it because it is in fact a Qantas problem so other airlines have not had to ground planes? (And no, I’m not being sarcastic or cynical; all the reports I’ve read make no mention of what the other airlines are doing).

    • Markus says:

      04:43pm | 21/11/10

      “Is it because a Qantas problem sells more copy than an industry-wide one”
      Bingo. Singapore Airlines grounded several of their A380s shortly after Qantas did, but that isn’t sensationalist news.

    • KH says:

      05:31pm | 21/11/10

      Gerard - I believe the A380s come with two different types of engine - the Trent 900s which were the problem here are not on all of the A380s.  I also remember that Singapore have also had their fleet A380s checked.  Of course the media here will focus on Qantas - its an Australian airline…....

    • Andrew says:

      05:35pm | 21/11/10

      Gerard, the reason why Qantas has ground their A380’s is two fold, one the problem exists with RR engines, EA engines like thought found on Emirates are of completely different design, thus unlikely to have the same fault. Second, Qantas want to hold onto their reputation. They don’t want to put 6 A380’s in the air unless they know they are safe. Don’t use airlines like Singapore Airlines as a guiding star, as they have had a recent fatal crash.

    • marley says:

      06:26pm | 21/11/10

      I’ve read that Airbus is planning to sue RR for the problems their engines are causing.  So I don’t think it’s exclusively a Qantas problem.

      Any Airbus 380 with the RR engines, older version, is compromised.  Airbus 380s with the GE engine, or with the newer RR engines, seem okay.  From what I’ve read, only Lufthansa and Singapore would be potentially affected.  (But I’m not claiming expertise, just saying that I think this particular problem lies with RR and not Qantas, and nothing I’ve read so far would alter my opinion.)

    • nate says:

      01:03pm | 22/11/10

      Gerard, if you read the news regularly you would’ve noticed that there are other airlines having problems ranging from crazy passengers to delays to emergency landings. And yet for pretty much all of them, the airline name is never mentioned in the headline, only within the body of the article. That’s because they’re not Australian airliner so the australian media doesn’t really care all that much about them since it won’t sell as well as news about Qantas.

    • Scot says:

      09:57pm | 22/11/10

      Nate, So are you one of the spin doctors working for Qantas to take the edge of this extremely bad performance?

    • Dan says:

      08:22am | 21/11/10

      Perhaps if all airlines reported publically all incidents, then Qantas would not look so bad. Certainly, the the A-380 incident out of Singapore was a very serious and close-run thing - but it’s becoming clearer that Qantas was in no way at fault. But the other incidents that have affected Qantas lately are common to airlines around the world every day.Generally, they are no more serious than your car getting a flat tyre.  No aircrew anywhere in the world are trained better than those employed by Qantas. None are more skilled. I know which airline I would choose for safety. Qantas every time.

      Having said all that, Qantas certainly has a PR challenge in front of it and has some hard work to do.

    • nate says:

      01:00pm | 22/11/10

      I agree, I still fly Qantas 100% of the time. It’s not unreasonable to assume that if that engine explosion had happened for any other airline the chances of a fatal crash would have increased significantly.

      The problem is like you say they have a PR problem since the majority of people are too stupid to think for themselves.

    • Reg says:

      10:49am | 21/11/10

      You’re right, no-one wants to think about it. I can honestly say I’ve never flown Qantas in any of my overseas trips. Always United or in their day, Austrian. I still think highly of Qantas but all this talk of modern management looking for short-cuts is beginning to undermine my confidence that they do things as well as the high volume US airlines do.

    • marley says:

      07:43pm | 21/11/10

      Oh migod. If you think the US airlines are the benchmark, you haven’t really thought this through.  They have a very so-so safety record, and lousy service.  I’ve got several million airmiles under my belt, and I try not to fly an US airline unless I have to.

    • Scot says:

      11:09am | 21/11/10

      Yes, too many Qantas issues over a long period of time turned me off this airline flying internationally. Too many in cabin issues, such as entertainment systems not working. Dirty grubby toilets, with pieces missing or holes where things used to be. Seat that do not work, and arm rests grubby and broken. Lights that do not work. Smelly planes. These all add up to a visual experience that says to us all that there are also many other things that are not being attended to. Time is money, get the plane back in the air. Use the same plane in Australia during the day, and then turn it into an international Asian flight over night. As for the Qantas food it is crap, designed and manufactured by people that have never flown regularly, and has been going down hill some time. Complaints to Qantas that go unanswered, telling them of bad experiences and being ignored in Australia or in Asia. I know for a fact that the Qantas staff trash many of the messages and hide them from senior management. Their OTP for many years was a disgrace. As to ground crews some of the worst are the current generation. I have stopped using Qantas for some time after I used up or gave away my 700,000 Qantas points. And now we see why.

    • Lucy says:

      09:13am | 22/11/10

      I fly Qantas every second week and I have never been on a ‘grubby’ and ‘broken’ Qantas flight. The staff are wonderful and the food is what you’d expect for the money that you pay. I rate them high and they will always be my first preference.

    • nate says:

      01:10pm | 22/11/10

      “Time is money, get the plane back in the air. Use the same plane in Australia during the day, and then turn it into an international Asian flight over night.”

      And that is bad why? All airlines do this it’s not something Qantas specific

      “As for the Qantas food it is crap, designed and manufactured by people that have never flown regularly, and has been going down hill some time”

      All airlines provide crappy food, I don’t see how that’s a problem specific to Qantas either. Even first class food is generally just acceptable and not great.

      “Complaints to Qantas that go unanswered, telling them of bad experiences and being ignored in Australia or in Asia. I know for a fact that the Qantas staff trash many of the messages and hide them from senior management.”

      I have little experience with Qantas customer service, but of the few that I did have they were pretty standard, nothing special, but nothing bad. As for trashing customer complaints I have no idea whether that’s true or not. But if it is then the only way you would know about that is if you worked for Qantas customer service. In which case instead of complaining here, why didn’t you report it to the senior management?

    • Scot says:

      07:26pm | 22/11/10

      Lucy, yes all domestic short hall trips I presume. For me I was doing 30 long hall flights a year in and out of Asia and no longer do on Qantas. All our staff have also walked away. We took our corporate account from Qantas, a very big one, and no one at Qantas was shocked, no one even picked up a phone to find out why?

    • Scot says:

      07:31pm | 22/11/10

      Nate, Qantas planes are grubby and dirty inside and if they cannot keep them clean then what else is not being service properly. The food is crap. I no longer have to follow up or communicate with an airline that terrible customer service.  When it comes to the big Asian airlines including China (not the cheap bucket airlines) they have a lot to learn about respecting their customers.

    • nosthow says:

      11:52am | 21/11/10

      Its a shocker for Qantas Ross. I am from the old school where there is nothing more comforting then seeing a set of propellers twirling as in the linked You Tube clip of one of the greatest and safest aircraft ever built - the DC3.

    • Ur$ula says:

      12:52pm | 21/11/10

      Production is prohibitively expensive, gross weight loads [elephant measurements] 250 tonnes, bigger wings, more engines, larger wheels and smaller economy seats.
      The National Airline of Australia,  firmly holds claim high standard safety records.  No aviation disasters.
      Bits and pieces are likely to fall off occasionally. Maintenance are my priority issues and inflight entertainment *blink-blink* not in my worries.  People enjoy the moment, engage in communication with other passengers. Pay attention to inflight emergency procedures, may be useful to you someday.

    • Ur$ula says:

      02:12pm | 21/11/10

      The A380 aircraft will inevitably experience mechanical faults, and the odd
      cosmetic bits n’ pieces dropping off the external perimeter of the aircraft.  Essentially, the aircraft are in the early stages of testing mechanical issues en route to destinations like Johannesburg, South Africa will require refuel and mechanical checks, that is hoping the south african government remember Qantas Boeing 737, had to land on a run way which had not been extended to ensure enough breaks to slow the aircraft from over shooting the runway.  I think the plane was stuck in the mud, for a few weeks until Qantas could fly in the heavy equipment to move the plane.  Fuel shortage crisis ground the aircraft for a few more days, until some black market fuel was negotiated to ensure the aircraft would arrive at Perth Airport without running out.

    • Wally says:

      02:19pm | 21/11/10

      Look, all passenger airplanes worldwide should be retrofitted with Martin Baker ejection seats, except 2 deck airplanes, where the godstick remote should not be the sole property of the big guy with 4 bars. That could be unfair, while the top deck goes soaring off into the clouds, the lower deck is likely to make a neat pattern in a grassy paddock, or somewhere, if the big guy snoozes off.  No,  the other guy with 3 bars needs to keep an eye on his boss, and the other on the airplane, which can be difficult, unless he’s Marty Feldman. I’ve been a passenger for many years, starting with the DC3, (military), where you could throw out practically anything, and if the skipper was skilled enough to radically slow down the old bird, you could practically climb out on a wing,  with harness, and hack off an engine (that McDonnell Douglas whacked on it that wasn’t a goer), with a machete, and climb back in. It’s true!  Relax. There’s worse things than a few un-necessary bits and pieces falling off an airplane, like death taxes. Hey, you have a nice day, y’all!

    • not Sue says:

      04:35pm | 21/11/10

      Who cares about the facts, it’s the impression that matters. Qantas is looking unsafe curently, no matter what the cause or the public relations spin. I for one won’t be flying in their A380s until they stop losing bits or looking like a disaster waiting to happen. We’ve watched “Air Crash Invesitigations” and are getting antsy. FIX THE PROBLEM, QANTAS. Either replace a faulty aircraft or change the maintenance arrangements to make us all feel safe again. Once there are no more reported incidents for a while, my confidence willl be restored. Full stop.

    • nate says:

      01:14pm | 22/11/10

      so basically you’re saying “Hi, I’m too stupid to think for myself, so I will blindly believe everything the media says and follow their infallible judgement even when I can tell that it’s not entirely correct” ?

    • david says:

      05:19pm | 21/11/10

      The media’s sole focus with Qantas over the last four years has been solely to paint the picture that Qantas offshores maintenance (which only 8% is offshored when Australian sites are full).    Yes the A380 incidents was serious, and is squarely bad luck that it happened to Qantas and not Singapore or Lufthansa.  I have worked for Qantas for 10 years and trivial flight turnbacks or various reasons, used to be considered conservative, and would get passengers praise for being saftey conscious, and these things would certainly not be in the press.  Now we live in a ‘tweeting’ world and we have a juvenile media reporting on every trivial birdstrike, lightning strike, chipped windsreen.  The media boss’ know we are safe, thats why the fly with us - but that doesn’t sell papers does it.  Every airline in the world has contained engine failures on a regular basis and Qantas has the lowest rate of contained engine failure or any major airline due to it’s first class preventative maintenance by its 5500 Australian based engineering staff.  The media should be ashamed of themselves ruining the fondness that many Australians have of the national carrier that has carried them safely for 90 years.

    • RT says:

      08:07pm | 21/11/10

      Well Said David.  I will still fly only Qantas whenever possible. I can’t believe people and the media are so unpatriotic. Common on, this is not Qantas’ fault and yet you fly an airline (blue in colour) which maintains its planes overseas too (more so!)

    • Ric says:

      05:21pm | 21/11/10

      It is exactly this sort of media beat up, uninformed rubbish that gets the general public going. Incidents that have happened prior to the big engine incident and after, are normal airline malfunctions. Every airline has them. It is just the media highlight every little snag that happens on a QANTAS flight. Log onto the CASA or NTSB website and look at the hundreds of incidents Australia wide that aren’t made a big deal of by the media because it doesn’t involve the Big Roo. Ros, you need to talk about something you know about and stop jumping on the QANTAS bandwagon.

    • Andrew says:

      05:37pm | 21/11/10

      Let’s put some perspective into this -

      Before you go shooting off about how unsafe Qantas is, lets see how they rank against other international airlines, and lets see how routine most of the incidents which you guys feel is reportable actually are.

    • BobbyDan says:

      06:08pm | 21/11/10

      As long as the Drivers and Cabin Crew up the front of any aircraft I fly in speak “Aussie English” I will have few fears when flying, even if the noise stops or the fans stop turning or bits fall off.

      The RAAF taught most of them to fly and an ex groung crew member I saw them through most of thier phases of training, any that were not up to standard became navigators or air electronics officers or were shown the door and left.

      The Best of the Best taught other pilots how to be better pilots. And flew the Air Display Aircraft , The Roulettes in my time in service.
      (Gidday to all the old hands at 1FTS - Pt Cook, 2FTS - Pearce & CFS - East Sale).

    • Charles says:

      07:04pm | 21/11/10

      Qantas, every time I’ve looked at coming back to Oz they were by far the most expensive. Pretty simple reason not fly them I think.

      But I avoid flying with BA (Bl**dy Awful) because of their own poor attitude towards passengers, from the number of things I’ve read about Qantas in the past few years going downhill and treating passengers pretty badly I’d rather stay with a foreign airline like Emirates.

      Brand new planes and most of the staff and pilots are Australian/European anyway.

    • JimmyMac says:

      11:35pm | 22/11/10

      So you are basing your comment on hearsay??

    • Jonno says:

      08:59pm | 21/11/10

      Media in this country is heavily biased against Qantas, which is astounding for a home grown product to be proud of. There are tens of incidents each day on all airlines worldwide, however none seem to get the same intense media coverage that Qantas has to endure.

      For what it’s worth, the closest Australia has come to a major disaster in aviation was not QF32 - it was the almost fatal take off of an Emirates A340 in Melbourne last year. That incident which only rated at best a paragraph or two in the newspapers was so close to being a disaster - but tyre tracks and scrape marks from the fuselage at the end of the runway and burnt grass beyond the runway threshold where the pilots firewalled the engines doesn’t pay the wages .  I also don’t remember any media organisation taking a poll after that event querying the training standards of Middle Eastern based airlines.

      People have a very short memory and an engine turbine blowing apart is very graphic and sells in the media.

      The Australian public deserve a full and transparent account of every aviation incident in the world to be broadcast and published so as to make an informed decision otherwise what they end up with is a very biased, self serving Australian media dishing up the “fast food” diet of half truths and sensationalism.

    • kyzz says:

      09:33am | 22/11/10

      That’s all well and good but some of us have no choice but to fly qantas as virgin etc don’t fly in/out of our airports. We have no choice but to fly qantas as it is a 1500km drive to the nearest airport that flies virgin, tiger et al. And over 3000km to drive to the destination by car. At least qantas is willing to service regional areas (atlhough admittedly at three times the cost of a bris to melb flight).

    • kyzz says:

      12:23pm | 22/11/10

      and let’s face it, I have significantly higher risk of being involved in an accident or dying if I were to drive 3000km then to hop on a qantas plane for three hours.

    • Jimmy says:

      11:45pm | 22/11/10

      And unlike airlines that have been around for decades, Virgin will only ‘Cherry Pick’ the routes that are most profitable. And yet they will manage to put a spin on it to make it look like the established airlines have been ripping you off (have you really been ripped off if you got your destination alive, at the agreed price??).
      Thanks Sir Dick!

    • redvixen says:

      01:20pm | 22/11/10

      You surveyed 1500 people across Australia, which has a population of 22 million.  WOW!  How extensive!  This article is just another chance to Qantas bash.  Get off the bandwagon - it may have been maintained overseas.

    • Jimmy says:

      11:48pm | 22/11/10

      I hate outsourced bandwagons!!

    • Franko says:

      05:42pm | 04/12/10

      For the record. and LISTEN UP. ALL A380’s and all their major services are done BY GERMANS under contract. Qantas and all other airlines are NOT ALLOWED to do major service on A380s. ALSO THE PLANE THAT HAD THE PROBLE WAS SERVICED IN AVALON, VIC the day before. So stop blaming outsourcing.

    • Ben says:

      10:00am | 01/02/11

      Germany is still outsourcing. It’s just because they are white that we don’t care. Also, forget that Asians (where less than 10% of Qantas maintenance is done) typically have a meticulous attitude of “let’s get every small detail right”, compared to a typical Australian attitude of “She’ll be right”, who would you rather fix your planes?


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