Parked aircraft spark safety dispute

Safety is compromised as manufacturers' recommended maintenance procedures are regularly being substituted on aircraft parked around Australia because of the COVID-19 crisis, aircraft engineers say.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers' Association says the maintenance workforce across Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin is about half of what it was before the airlines' coronavirus-driven cost-cutting and they can't keep up with critical maintenance schedules for grounded planes.

The airlines admit some changes have been made to standard procedures, but deny any lessening of safety standards.

ALAEA federal secretary Steve Purvinas told AAP that many recommended manufacturer procedures were being vacated due to lack of labour or tooling.

Instead the airlines were issuing themselves a "seemingly unlimited" number of special dispensations to vary from best practice.

He said on the first day Qantas and Jetstar halved their maintenance workforces, they issued over 60,000 hours of preservation work to park aircraft that they have been unable to complete on time.

"If they kept a full complement of staff on duty until the preservation work was complete, they would have been able to comply with Boeing and Airbus procedures," Mr Purvinas said.

"They haven't, with safety being the casualty."

Qantas's head of engineering Chris Snook said the airline "will never compromise on safety.

"It wouldn't be a surprise to anyone that when aircraft are grounded, they need less maintenance. And therefore, there is unfortunately less work for our engineers to do."

He said Qantas Group aircraft were maintained, parked and stored to the highest standards in accordance with aircraft and engine manufacturers' and Civil Aviation Safety Authority requirements.

Qantas says sometimes variations to standard procedures were needed because of a shortage of materials and tooling, following a worldwide surge in demand when 16,000 commercial aircraft were grounded in March.

In these instances, either the manufacturers or CASA-approved design engineers have assessed and approved the alternative.

The airline rejects the union claim that 60,000 hours of work was issued when the job cuts took effect, saying it has enough engineers for the few aircraft still flying and those in storage.

Any extensions granted for maintenance work were also in accordance with manufacturers and CASA-approved engineers' requirements.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said its parking programs, including during the COVID-19 crisis that had grounded most of its fleet, had maintenance that went beyond aircraft manufacturers' requirements.

The group, which went into administration last month, sought approval from the manufacturers for any alternative maintenance procedures required.

"These procedures have been deemed to have met or exceeded the published requirements for parked aircraft," the spokesperson said.

"We uphold the highest safety standards for our aircraft and ensuring their safety when they return to the skies will be our number one priority."

More than 300 aircraft belonging to the major airlines have been grounded in Australia since COVID-19 stopped most people flying.

A CASA spokesperson said it had received no reports of any issues with parked aircraft.

"Aircraft owners must follow the maintenance requirements set out by the manufacturer - or an approved alternative - which includes actions to be taken while aircraft are parked," the spokesperson told AAP.

"So it's not park and forget. It's park and maintain safely."

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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