The airline has a plan to check and reinstall the Rolls-Royce engines from its grounded A380 fleet, writes Andrew Heasley.
QANTAS will have an Airbus A380 superjumbo in the air by the end of the month - a new plane Airbus is due to deliver in France in the next fortnight.
But the other six aircraft remain out of service - one damaged and impounded by air investigators in Singapore after the midair engine explosion on November 4, and the other five grounded while engine checks and technical examinations continue.
Qantas is establishing what it calls a ''hospital line'' to manage the checking, dismantling, upgrading and reinstalling the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines from the aircraft, said Qantas's chief executive, Alan Joyce.
Airbus has announced that Rolls-Royce has a kit to bring older Trent 900s up to date with the latest version coming off its production line.
''The engines, when we take them off, will essentially go through a 'hospital line', which is an intense program that will look at fixing these components on the engine,'' Mr Joyce said.
Rolls-Royce has been making running modifications to the design, manufacturing and assembly of the engine's components, including the component believed to be at the centre of the midair explosion, a gear bearing and its oil supply system.
Qantas first has to identify what version of the engines it has, what problems the engine might exhibit and determine what components need upgrading to bring the engines up to the latest specification.
''When we identify that there's an engine that is a problem engine, that engine will be taken off-wing, and that engine will go through a program that puts those [latest] modifications back on it,'' Mr Joyce said.
''We have the aircraft on the ground so we're obviously taking engines off, as we speak. Rolls will be then telling us what the program is to get them through the 'mod program' [of technical updates] and this 'hospital' review.
''We need to have the plan from Rolls about when this can be done, when the components can be done, when the components can be provided.''
Work will be done in Rolls-Royce's engine facilities - one in Hong Kong and one in Britain. Engines will be airfreighted to the workshops from the grounded planes, two in Sydney and three in Los Angeles. They will then be modified and flown back for re-installation.
"We don't know at this stage what that time-frame's going to be," Mr Joyce said.
''That means we can't be definitive when the aircraft will be back in the air.''
There is also likely to be a shortage of the special cranes that lift and move the engines from the wings.
The latest industry estimate is that about 20 engines in the Singapore Airlines fleet, as many as 14 in the Qantas fleet and two in Lufthansa's fleet will need to be upgraded.
Singapore Airlines is particularly affected, having received more early versions of the engine, Mr Joyce said.
Even the new A380, the seventh in Qantas's fleet, will still be subjected to the same airworthiness directives from the European Aviation Safety Agency as the other Rolls-Royce engines in the A380 fleet, which requires engines to be inspected by their 10th flight and every 20 flights thereafter.
Qantas is due to receive its eighth A380 next month and its ninth in January, so it should have at least one in the skies for Oprah Winfrey's tour to Australia.
Airbus has said Rolls-Royce is completing a software patch that would shut down an engine automatically in flight if it sensed anomalies to its normal operating conditions.
The new A380 will be fitted with the latest version of the Trent 900 engine and the safety shutdown software.
Mr Joyce said that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority was also involved in the process of returning the aircraft to the skies.
He said Rolls-Royce would not put Qantas at the back of the queue for new engines, even if Singapore Airlines needs a larger number of engine replacements or upgrades.
''We did all testing before anybody else did. Other airlines were clearing their fleets to fly.
''We said 'no', we'd found problems. And when we found the problems we were requesting spare engines, so we were in there first; it was one of the advantages of the process that we've done.''
Rolls-Royce has provided scant information to the public about how it is handling the engine explosion and the fallout, leaving the explanations to the airlines and airframe manufacturer.
Some industry insiders say it has adopted the strategy of BP in its handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: say as little as you can and it will all go away.