Qantas accused of safety cover-up

SENIOR management at Qantas have been accused of covering up a serious maintenance flaw on a Boeing 747-400 by pressuring an engineer to change his finding that a crack in the jet's frame had been painted over.

The original safety report, completed after a check on the aircraft at Qantas's heavy maintenance base at Melbourne's Avalon Airport in May, and obtained by the Herald, shows that an engineer found a crack that "appears to have been previously covered over with sealant and paint".


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However, in the final version of the report, also obtained by the Herald, the reference to the crack being painted over has been removed.

Further documents suggest that the final report was edited as a result of a directive from senior management.

Engineers say this was done to avoid criticism of the airline's outsourcing program because the last major maintenance check of the jet had been carried out overseas.

A Qantas investigation found the alterations were "acceptable practice" because there was no evidence the crack had been covered up.

The incident delivers another blow to the airline's safety reputation, which has crumbled with a series of highly publicised mid-air incidents, including the emergency landing of QF30 after a hole was blown in its fuselage, and a review by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority that found "emerging deficiencies" in the airline's maintenance program.

Following the release of the altered maintenance report, an engineer from the base submitted a complaint to Qantas's quality safety and risk management department, calling it a "confidential report of safety situation".

It alleges the engineer had been "subjected to pressure from senior management to omit or alter information on the form … pertaining to [the painting over] being a deliberate act".

"The report should have been allowed in its original form as the originator intended with the resulting investigation determining the outcome," it states.

"Management are aware of the public perception in relation to dodgy maintenance of aircraft that have returned from overseas.

"The interference in the process that is in place … solidifies engineer's beliefs that the system has failed."

The airline investigated the matter and found the report had been altered but that this was "acceptable practice" because it found "no evidence" the crack had been painted over.

"The fact that the management requested the information to be changed in a Qantas Engineering report is an acceptable practice and the prerogative of management," the report says.

The airline's head of engineering and maintenance, David Cox, said in a statement yesterday there was "no issue". "We are more than confident in our processes and run an open and transparent operation. It is a shame that some people are not able to abide by the umpire's decision."

However, engineers from the Avalon base are adamant that the crack had been painted over.

"The part should have been quarantined until a proper investigation into the painting over took place, but that didn't happen. It basically sat in the manager's office," a Qantas engineer, who asked not to be named, told the Herald.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority said it was not clear "whether the crack had developed underneath the paint or whether it was painted over".