Qantas under pressure after third emergency landing in a week

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The Independent Online

A third emergency landing in a week has placed Australia's national airline under intense pressure from air safety experts, unions and the travelling public.

The latest incident involved a Qantas 767 which had to abort a flight from Sydney to the Philippines over the weekend because of an hydraulic fuel leak.

Last Monday a 737-800 was forced to return to Adelaide after a landing gear door failed to retract. And just over a week ago a scheduled flight from London to Melbourne via Hong Kong had to make an emergency landing in Manila, when an exploding oxygen cylinder blew a large hole in the fuselage.

Now Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority has formed a special team to find out if the airline's safety standards are slipping.

Last night Authority spokesman Peter Gibson insisted the move was no more than a precautionary measure and that there was no evidence of a fall in safety standards.

"But we've got to be cognisant ­ if things happen we need to be flexible and pro-active and respond to those (concerns) and that's what we're doing," he said.

"We have no evidence to suggest there are problems within Qantas but we think it's prudent and wise to go in with a new special team and take an additional look at a range of operational issues with Qantas," he added.

"It's important that we go in and double check and make sure that all the standards are being maintained."

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority's investigation follows mounting concern over the maintenance of Qantas planes.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association blamed a change in the airline's culture which drove management demands for cost cutting at the expense of manpower and skills training.

Assistant Federal Secretary Wayne Vista said engineers had always done the best job they could in the past. "Now it appears we have got to do the best job we can possibly do, within a budget," he added. "We've got accountants running Qantas, as opposed to engineers."

While it has been a grim week for the airline's reputation ­ and an unnerving and frustrating experience for hundreds of passengers ­ it seems even the cabin crew have had enough.

Steven Reed, President of the Flight Attendants Association of Australia, said his members wanted assurances from management that the airline's planes were safe.

Clearly under pressure from those of his members who have to bear the brunt of passenger wrath, he has demanded a meeting with the company at a senior level.

"What we want to say is that lots of comments have been attributed to engineers about falling maintenance standards ­ that's concerned our members," he explained.

A Qantas spokesman said it was likely a meeting would be held in the next week.