Three Qantas planes make unplanned landings in one day; CEO defends safety record

A Qantas plane takes off at Sydney Airport. Three of the airline's planes were forced to make unscheduled landings, including the turnaround of one of the world's longest haul flights. -- PHOTO: AFP 
A Qantas plane takes off at Sydney Airport. Three of the airline's planes were forced to make unscheduled landings, including the turnaround of one of the world's longest haul flights. -- PHOTO: AFP 

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's Qantas was forced to make three unscheduled landings in 24 hours, including the turnaround of one of the world's longest haul flights, but pilots said Tuesday the incidents were likely unrelated, prompting the airline's chief executive to defend its safety record.

Flight QF7 to Dallas returned to Sydney late on Monday after four hours in the air due to a technical issue which impacted seat power, the in-flight entertainment system and some of the toilets. "While the aircraft could have continued flying safely to Dallas, the decision was made to return to Sydney in the interests of passenger comfort on what is a long flight," a Qantas statement said.

The Sydney to Dallas route, among the world's longest non-stop commercial flights, typically takes around 15 hours.

The aircraft was the second of Qantas' A380s to experience a problem on Monday. Another of the superjumbo passenger jets, flying from Dubai to Sydney, was diverted to Perth due to a fault with the cabin air system while over the Indian Ocean.

As a precaution, the captain descended from 39,000 feet to 10,000 feet in just five minutes, and requested a priority landing in Perth before touching down safely.

"It's standard procedure to descend quickly in these circumstances and at no stage was the safety of the aircraft or passengers at risk," Qantas' head of flying operations Mike Galvin said in another statement.

The third incident involved a flight from the Western Australian capital Perth to the mining hub of Karratha, which was reportedly turned back after an unusual odour was detected.

Australian and International Pilots Association president Nathan Safe said he was confident the incidents were unrelated.

"Generally, aeroplanes are built tough enough and with enough redundancies and all that kind of stuff that you do have some time to assess the situation," Mr Safe told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce defended the airline on Tuesday, saying its record was better than most.

Mr Joyce said the reality was that “thousands upon thousands” of turn-backs happened to airlines each year and Qantas experienced far fewer than the industry as a whole.“We are very confident in Qantas’ reliability,” he told reporters in Brisbane.“We have really low levels of turn-backs compared to most of the world fleets.”

Mr Joyce said on the Boeing 737, one of the planes involved in Monday’s incidents, the industry average was one turn-back for every 9,000 sectors whereas for Qantas it was one turn-back for every 18,000 sectors travelled.

The incidents came on the same day that the embattled airline announced it was on the way to an underlying half-year profit of up to A$350 million (S$384 million) after a major shake-up to stem losses that has included thousands of job losses.