Thirty odd years ago, Qantas got a global PR boost money couldn’t buy. In Rainman, Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ray, wouldn’t get on his flight because it wasn’t a Qantas flight, Qantas, Ray said, had never crashed whereas the airline he was meant to be getting on now did not have the same shiny ass safety record.
The never crashed line wasn’t accurate but it was nonetheless, rolled gold publicity for Qantas and they’ve played their safety record on high rotation ever since. They’ll be doubling down this week with the news that Qantas has just been named the world’s safest airline in rankings by AirlineRatings.com.
Dispelling some myths
But first, let’s dispel a few myths. It is not true that Qantas has never crashed or never had a fatality. Qantas (and the brand), in one way or another, has been around since 1920. Since WWII it has lost four aircraft with a total of 21 fatalities. The most recent was in 1951 when a de Havilland DH-84 Dragon crashed in the PNG highlands, killing three people.
There was a later serious incident in Mauritius in 1960 when a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation crashed on take off. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. Then things went incident-free for Qantas for a long time, laying the foundation for the Rainman line.
Since Rainman, Qantas has had no fatalities. That’s 68 years fatality-free for an airline – which is pretty damn good. But there have been a few quite serious incidents. In 1999, a Qantas 747-400 overran the runway after landing in Bangkok, ending up on a golf course.
In 2008, a Qantas A330-300 over the Western Australian coastline suffered two sudden uncommanded pitch down maneuvers causing a rapid loss of altitude and numerous injuries. And most recently, a Qantas A380 departing Singapore in 2010 had an uncontained turbine disc failure, landing safely but narrowly avoiding a major disaster.
So it isn’t an unblemished record, but in the wider scheme of things, it is a pretty good safety record. Good enough for it to pick up this latest gong. And it’s worth noting because, in aviation, safety is everything.
Qantas an innovator in aviation safety
The evaluation by AirlineRatings.com is based on a number of criteria including government audits, audits from industry bodies, profitability, crash and incident record, fleet age and safety initiatives.
What impressed AirlineRatings.com most was Qantas’ investment in leading-edge safety technologies. For example, Qantas was the first airline with real-time monitoring of its engines using satellite communications. The result was engine problems could be noted before they become major issues.
And it was just this. Qantas was also a lead airline when developing the Future Air Navigation System, flight data recorders to keep an eye on the aircraft and crew’s performance, automatic landings using GPS and precision landings around mountains. Have you ever seen that landing into Queenstown? It’s amazing, it’s below.
Qantas behind many safety advances
The man behind the rankings, Geoffrey Thomas of AirlineRatings.com said;
“Qantas has been the lead airline in virtually every major operational safety advancement over the past 60 years and has not had a fatality in the jet era.”
In addition, he justifiably pointed out;
“All airlines have incidents every day, and many are aircraft or manufacture issues, not airline operational problems. And it is the way the flight crew handles incidents that determines a good airline from an unsafe one.”
Qantas got the top safety billing because it was a consistently strong performer across all the criteria. On an anecdotal level the other day, I was talking to someone who worked on the tarmac at Singapore Airport. He said the most anal airlines in regards to safety and pre-flight checks were Qantas and the Japanese carriers. It’s a subjective opinion with a degree of expertise that backs the findings of airlineratings.com.
It’s good news for an airline from the far side of the world that has consistently punched above its weight when it comes to safety and innovation. And as airline safety and technology improves by the year, Qantas is in the box seat to retain the top safety prize.