Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aussie blame game against Malaysian aircraft maintenance

Malaysiakini published a disturbing news article titled Malaysian poser in mid-air drama, where it tells us that Australian "… fingers are being pointed at a aircraft maintenance company in Malaysia after a Qantas plane met with a near fatal mid-air disaster yesterday."

The Sydney-based tabloid The Daily Telegraph, of conservative (rightwing) proclivity and I believe more parochial, quoted an anonymous senior Qantas pilot attributing the incident to the company’s outsourcing of maintenance to Malaysia.

What had occurred was a part of the aeroplane fuselage panel broke off, causing rapid decompression. Some said the rupture could have been due to corrosion of that portion of the fuselage. Usually the ones near the toilet would suffer most from corrosion – you know, urine!)

Sydney Morning Herald photo

However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a source saying "While it is too early to say what actually caused the hole, we will be looking at two possibilities ... something exploded in one of the bags or a panel came loose on the fuselage."

The same SMH source said that a bomb was unlikely but the rupture in the fuselage could have been caused by a pressurised container inside a piece of luggage. The hole due to the rupture would in turn cause the rapid decompression.

Rapid decompression means there was a significant leak in the fuselage, thus affecting the ability of the plane to maintain the required level of pressurisation for economical cruise at higher altitude, usually in the region of 30,000 feet or higher.

The fault would force the pilot to make an emergency descent to below 10,000 feet, the normal highest altitude for unpressurised flight.

Mr Anon Pilot (and it could well be anyone, not necessary a Qantas senior pilot) claimed that there had been a lot of talk among pilots about the poor checks on aircraft being performed overseas.

He said:
“Qantas outsourcing maintenance to Malaysia is certainly worrying a lot of us pilots. There has been aircraft coming back with dodgy staples to secure wiring.”

For a start, no one could even confirm if the plane had ever been repaired or maintained in Malaysia.

A few months ago, the Singaporeans were blamed for some other problems. And it was related to the issues raised by that anonymous pilot in the Telegraph who said:
“Qantas outsourcing maintenance to Malaysia is certainly worrying a lot of us pilots. There has been aircraft coming back with dodgy staples to secure wiring.”

' ... dodgy staples to secure wiring ...' was precisely the blame directed at Singapore maintenance, which is why I suspect the attribution wasn’t by a pilot, but rather by an Aussie maintenance engineer or a creative reporter. The ‘suspect’ nation in Aussie newspapers at that time was Singapore – now, it’s Malaysia – you get the idea?

Besides, it’s usually the engineers who would be pushing the campaign against Qantas or any Aussie airlines subscribing to overseas aircraft maintenance, rather than an ‘anonymous’ pilot.

What we need to know as background information is that Qantas and many Australian airlines have been shifting their maintenance work offshore to cheaper locations like Malaysia, Singapore, etc.

But cheaper maintenance doesn’t necessarily mean a lower standard of work. The cost has to do with Australian wages and loading (working during non standard working hours or on weekends). By comparison, Asian wages are far lower.

There has been an ongoing scare campaign by the Aussie airline maintenance staff’s unions for obvious reasons, because they fear losing their jobs. Every single loose screw would be magnified into the ‘inevitable shoddy outcome of Asian backyard sweat shops’ as a result of offshore maintenance.

In fact, Qantas aircraft maintenance engineers, until recently, had gone ‘slow’ on a ‘rolling strike’ which ensured that not enough people were there at the line at any one time to keep the airline flight schedules on time.

Qantas has finally managed to settle the pay claims.

Apart from the maintenance people, the air traffic controllers have been subtly pushing their claims as well, with some incidents of scare publicity, ’showing’ there isn’t enough air traffic controllers in Australia,

We cannot accept the Australian Telegraph innuendoes on the bull basis of an anonymous pilot, but if one were to read the Australian newspapers on a daily basis, one would be able to place that unsourced allegation in full context, a picture of industrial unrest dominated by Aussie aircraft maintenance engineers' fears of losing their jobs to overseas workers.


  1. This is a good piece of article with relevant background for a total overview of the issue. Still it would look bad on Malaysia, and with the renowned theft of items from luggage handled at KLIA it's probably a good idea to shine the spotlight on them.

  2. Its laughable to blame malaysain company, when investigation of the cause have not conclude yet.

    Now MAS said they only maintains Qantas 737 aircraft.

  3. I think MAS should not jump the gun and defend itself - not because they might be the cause, but rather the speculation is unsubstantiated. Hence why try to defend oneself (like politicians we have!) - let the truth speak for itself.

    But me thinks it's just an extension of the case when the country is in deep s*** then the rest of everyone has no reservations to dump their loads on us - what's one more to a over flowing cesspool of mess ...

  4. They're worried about dodgy staples for wiring?? For the love of God, wiring doesn't even come under significant structure.

    I don't know what to think about Malaysian outsourcing though. It's not that we're not good, but sometimes low pay and internal politics drive the good ones to seek greener pastures. And then the crummy ones are left.