Qantas, Jetstar fly in the face of curfew

FAULTY Qantas and Jetstar planes and equipment have been responsible for almost half of all curfew breaches at Sydney Airport over the past 12 months.

Records from the NSW Ministry of Transport list defects that caused significant delays to passengers and inflicted aircraft noise on residents after 11pm. The defects further diminish the national carrier's tarnished maintenance record.

A total of 77 planes, including 51 belonging to Qantas and Jetstar, requested dispensation to breach the curfew; 50 requests were approved.

Some of the reasons for the flights being delayed include water leaks on vital electronic equipment, faulty reverse thrust, fuel leaks, a cracked cabin window and faulty brake hoses in landing gear.

Weather-related delays accounted for 13 breaches; passengers missing flights or causing security concerns were responsible for six breaches. Most breaches, however, relate to land-based technology and defective aircraft, particularly those of Qantas and Jetstar.

The ministry's logs reveal that in April a Qantas jet was given special dispensation after it was delayed by a "refuelling truck [that] was unable to disengage from the aircraft". Another flight broke the curfew after engineers discovered "metal on the magnetic engine".

On March 25, Qantas's "entire operations [in Sydney] were operating from just two landlines and two mobile phones" after lightning strikes caused a communications failure. As a result, Qantas was unable to arrange accommodation for 72 stranded passengers and was granted permission to fly after curfew.

Another breach occurred on Boxing Day last year when a Qantas aircraft broke down at Perth Airport and could not be towed to a parking bay for maintenance because all bays were being used by other Qantas planes that had broken down.

Records show Qantas flight 566 was "kept standing on the taxiway until a bay could be cleared", which took two hours and meant it could not land in Sydney before the 11pm curfew.

The list of faults follows several incidents involving Qantas, including the emergency landing of a Boeing 747-400 in Manila in July after a large hole was blown in the fuselage, and the dramatic midair plunge of a flight on October 7 that seriously injured 13 passengers. Last week, the plane involved in the Manila incident collided with another jumbo while both were being towed at Avalon Airport in Victoria.

Other airlines have also breached curfew because of faulty planes. The ministry's records show that a Malaysia Airlines flight was delayed when "a piece of metal fell off the [cabin] door" after passengers boarded.

A Qantas spokesman said that, like every airline, it requested dispensations for several reasons including weather and technical issues. "Being the largest operator, with around 130,000 departures and arrivals at Sydney Airport each year, the number of dispensations for the Qantas group is extremely small - around 0.02 per cent of total flights into and out of Sydney," the spokesman said.