On Friday, 6 January 2012, Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways announced that they discovered cracks on the wing ribs of their Airbus A380s. Both carriers went on to say that the cracks posed no threat to safety and that repairs have been carried out (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/07/uk-singaporeairlines-a-idUSLNE80600G20120107).
There appears to be two sides of the fence when it comes to safety concerns. Steve Purvinas, from the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association has called for all 67 A380s currently in service to be grounded with immediate effect (http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/Airbus-faces-ground-A380/story-14389774-detail/story.html).
He said: “We cannot continue to gamble with people’s lives and allow those aircraft to fly around and hope that they make it until their four-yearly inspection.”
Although the cracks have been labelled as “non-critical” by Airbus and SIA’s spokesman, Nicholas Ionides, has said in an email to Reuters that these cracks “posed no safety issue”, I wonder if these statements are entirely objective?
Airbus has every incentive to insist that its A380s are safe to ensure that its sales do not drop and SIA has similar business interests to maintain. While I understand the financial implications of grounding flights, concerns with regards to the safety of passengers must also be adequately balanced with the potential financial loss.
Given that the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association has called for the A380s to be grounded, it might be worthwhile at this stage, for an entity such as the SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) to issue a statement? SIAEC, being a major provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services in the Asia Pacfic has the requisite technical expertise in relation to aircraft engineering and would be equipped to examine this issue from a “safety” perspective.
While SIA and SIAEC are related (SIA being the parent company of SIAEC), SIAEC is nevertheless a separate legal entity and the statements it issues in relation to this will be perceived as more objective than those issued by SIA.
Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lui Tuck Yew said yesterday that Singapore’s Changi Airport is the “busiest multi carrier A380 hub” (http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v6/newsbusiness.php?id=639477). This is a great achievement that all Singaporeans can take pride in. However, to ensure that we retain our “best class” status, we will also need to ensure that safety concerns are adequately looked after. Changi Airport has achieved such status only because of its outstanding reputation. Like it or not, Changi Airport and SIA are inextricably linked and should SIA’s international standing suffer as a result of a preventable accident, Changi Airport’s reputation will suffer a consequential knock on effect.
In ensuring that SIA remains profitable, we have to take a long term view and safety is of utmost importance. Short term efficiency cannot take priority over safety concerns. The last thing we need is for SIA to develop the problems that have arisen in our internal transportation system! Our domestic transport woes were frustrating but should the A380s develop problems midflight, the result could be catastrophe – infinitely worse than mere inefficiency!
I wonder what Mr Lui’s views on the A380s are? While SIA is a private company, its parent company is Temasek Holdings, a company that is seen to be linked to the ruling government of which Mr Lui is a representative of.