Qantas pilots are outraged that a ground worker dressed up as a pilot and sat in the cockpit of A380 superjumbos on a return flight from Sydney to Dubai.
The pilots' union has lodged a formal complaint with the airline about the staff member from navigation services who wore a second officer's uniform on the flights when she wasn't one. Qantas has yet to get to the bottom of why she was dressed as a pilot but confirmed that she was on company business on the A380 flights to and from Dubai late last week.
Her job in navigation relates to providing flight plans.
The staff member had a so-called "red" Australian Security Identification Card, which allows her entry to restricted areas, including the cockpit, provided she has the captain's permission.
However, the pilots' union emphasises that this access did not permit her to "masquerade as a pilot".
"She is purporting to be somebody she is not," Australian and International Pilots' Association vice-president Richard Woodward said.
"At the company's direction, they put a person on the flight deck dressed as a pilot who is not a pilot. It is not appropriate under any circumstances. The pilots are all up in arms."
In the event of an emergency, he said the flight attendants on the A380s would have looked to her for direction because she was dressed as a pilot.
Mr Woodward said the plane's captain was placed in a difficult position when she turned up for the flight in Dubai because he had to make a snap decision about whether to leave her behind or allow her on board.
The captain has since raised his concerns about the incident in a report to Qantas operations.
Mr Woodward said Qantas would also have copped a substantial fine, and the woman was likely to have been arrested, had she continued onto London from Dubai on the A380s.
The UK has tight restrictions on access to the cockpit by anyone but on-duty pilots and flight attendants.
The Qantas A380s had three legitimate pilots on each of the long-haul flights to and from Dubai.
Qantas confirmed that a staff member "wore parts of a pilot's uniform while travelling in the jump seat" during the return flight.
"We're examining precisely why this happened. However, it's clear that the staff member was on the flight deck for operational reasons and was not in any way trying to deceive the flight crew, who knew the staff member wasn't a pilot," the airline said in a statement.
"The staff member had the proper security clearance and appropriate documentation to be on the flight deck and there is no suggestion of improper behaviour on the aircraft."
The Department of Infrastructure and Transport, which has oversight of security regulations, said it would seek information from the airline about the incident.
"Whether a person is in breach of the Aviation Transport Security Regulations would depend on the circumstances under which access to the cockpit was granted," a spokesman said.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is also aware of the incident but said it was a matter for the federal Transport Department.