Cockpit fire forces Jetstar emergency landing in Guam

A Jetstar Airbus A330-200 aircraft.
A Jetstar Airbus A330-200 aircraft. 

Australian aircraft engineers have blasted Jetstar and Qantas for using cheap maintenance facilities overseas after a Jetstar plane's cockpit caught fire and forced an emergency landing in Guam early this morning.

The engineers union has disputed claims by Jetstar management that the aircraft had been maintained in Australia, saying its last major maintenance check occurred in the Philippines.

The Jetstar A330-200 aircraft - flight JQ 20 - left Osaka's Kansai International Airport for the Gold Coast just before 11pm last night (AEST) carrying 186 adult passengers, four infants and 13 crew including 9 cabin crew and 4 pilots.

Jetstar chief executive officer Bruce Buchanan said a computer error message identified a fault with a heating element in a cockpit window that caused a small fire.

The pilot managed to extinguish the fire and send out a mayday call before conducting an emergency landing at Guam airport.

The Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association is angry about comments by Jetstar management that link the latest cockpit fire incident to Qantas engineering within Australia.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway stood by his statements and told The Age the less than two-year old plane was checked in Australia only last month.

"The last major check on that aircraft is what's called an A-check was undertaken in May of this year and it was undertaken by Qantas engineering in Australia,'' Mr Westaway said.

But Steve Purvinas, the engineers association's federal secretary, said the Jetstar A330 last underwent major maintenance in Manila in December 2008.

He said this was the second emergency landing forced by cockpit smoke in 18 months.

"Qantas group A330 aircraft have never undergone major maintenance in Australia,'' Mr Purvinas said.

"This is the second cockpit smoke emergency landing on a Qantas group aircraft in 18 months and in both cases the aircraft had undertaken maintenance in the cheaper overseas facilities.

"The previous incident occurred in February 2008 on a Boeing 747 and resulted in an emergency landing in Sydney.''

He said Qantas and its subsidiary Jetstar were lucky the two cockpit incidents occurred in an area of the aircraft that was easily identifiable and accessible.

"Qantas are blessed that these incidents didn't occur in cargo holds or electronic equipment bays,'' he said.

"Qantas need to come clean about the high level of overseas maintenance on Australian aircraft or better still, bring the full workload back to Australia where aircraft maintenance over a long period of time has proved to be second to none.''

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has sent investigators to Guam to examine the aircraft, while the US-based National Transportation Safety Board and Qantas would also investigate the incident, Mr Buchanan said this morning.

"It's no human error.''

Mr Buchanan said the aircraft went into service in August 2007 and the window was one originally fitted by the manufacturer.

Passengers - most of whom were Japanese nationals except for 44 Australians - were unaware of the incident and there was no smoke or fire in the cabin. No one was injured.

"He's (the pilot) called a mayday and diverted into Guam and all passengers and crew are safe,'' Mr Buchanan said.

"In fact most of the passengers were unaware until they got onto the ground and the captain informed them of what actually happened.''

The flight landed safely without incident at Guam International Airport at 2.20am (AEST).

Mr Buchanan commended the crew's quick actions in putting the fire out. He said the chief pilot had 14 years' experience flying with Qantas.

"I'd just really like to commend the pilots ... they've reacted swiftly and in a very professional manner,'' Mr Buchanan said.

Jetstar will send a plane from Sydney at 11am today to collect the passengers and crew, who are being accommodated in hotels in Guam. The plane is then due to depart from Guam at 6pm to fly back to Brisbane.

The island of Guam is a US territory, located in the Pacific Ocean about 2100 kilometres east of the Philippines.

The aircraft is the same model as the Air France flight which disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month.

A team of ATSB investigators, including operations, electrical engineer and licensed aircraft maintenance engineers, will travel to Guam this morning to commence the investigation.

A passenger on board the flight, Adam Power, told 3AW he could smell something for two hours before the plane descended.

"I think their main aim was to just keep us calm. There were no bumps or anything like that, just a heavy smell. I wouldn't say it was a fire smell, it was like someone was cooking or something like that. A different sort of smoky smell ... it was a weird smell.''

He said they were told there were "technical difficulties'' while they were in the air, with the passengers being told there was a fire after they had landed.

He said that the jet landed about half an hour after the announcement, but the smell was present for about two hours before that.

Mr Power, a musician, said the worst thing was he had to cancel a gig schedule for tonight in Brisbane. "I've got to call the manager of that bar. Hopefully he'll believe me.''

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