Review: ‘The Men Who Killed Qantas’

The Men Who Killed Qantas.jpgAny recent Qantas accident or incident has been met with a familiar sequence of events. The Qantas maintenance union hits out against the airline, claiming the carrier’s decision to save money by performing maintenance off-shore leads to shoddy and unsafe work. And then Qantas denies the accusation, saying its maintenance is fine.

Then another incident–exploding oxygen tank puts hole in fuselage, cockpit catches on fire, landing gear has problems.

Are these all coincidental? Or is there a fundamental problem with Qantas’ maintenance?

Matthew Benns in The Men Who Killed Qantas sets out to answer that. His conclusion is there is a culture in Qantas hell-bent on cost saving and it bears the consequence of all the incidents over the years. Benns, however, never produces ample evidence to support this claim.

If you can get past the tacky and sensationalist cover, you’ll find his book is a disjointed chronicle of Qantas’ history, interlaced with random facts (it cost the carrier $2 million to redesign its kangaroo logo so it would fit on the A380) better suited to an IFE quiz game than your time.

One matter Benns overlooks is that if people “killed” Qantas, the carrier needed to be “alive” in the first place. Benns details every Qantas crash and incident, of which there were many throughout the carrier’s history. Benns does not differentiate between what it was in the 1920s and today that lead to incidents. Given that a crash nearly occurred on the delivery flight of one of Qantas’ first aircraft in 1921, was Qantas thus never “born” and so could never be “killed”?

The merits of Benns’ work, aside from unsuccessfully arguing his point, is questionable. The book is well-researched but thorough on topics only about anything negative or the least bit unsavoury.

An example: Over five pages Benns details a 1971 extortion that saw Qantas depart itself from a half million dollars. Benns painstakingly details the car the perpetrator bought with the ransom money: “it was iridescent blue with bone white upholstery and had red wall tyres on its US magnesium alloy wire wheels”. Immediately after the section Benns writes, “For Qantas the missing money was the least of its problems.” You can almost hear Benns squeal in delight at having you wasted five pages of reading.

At the end, Benns does delve into questions about the existence and consequences of toxic cabin air. It is a matter worth investigating further (as my colleague David Learmount has written about), but the topic is not confined to Qantas, and would have no easy connection to Benns’s main argument about cost-cutting.

What Benns ultimately does is use a series of incidents to get readers to turn their nose up at a carrier they likely already find arrogant. For some readers he’s preaching to the right choir. But for most of us, a more balanced and authoritative account of Qantas’ maintenance issues awaits.

One Response to Review: ‘The Men Who Killed Qantas’

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