Sunday, April 22, 2012

Shakespeare, Woody Allen and Today's Flight of a Qantas A380

Photo courtesy Airservices/Paul Sadler
Both Woody Allen and William Shakespeare have words of wisdom regarding the momentous flight today of  Qantas Airlines' newly resurrected Airbus A380. Don't believe me? Keep reading.

One can certainly understand the excitement of Qantas executives, with the arrival in Sydney this morning of the A380 Nancy Bird Walton. The jumbo jet has been out of service since November 2010 when the number 2 Rolls Royce Trent 900 engine spewed parts shortly after takeoff from Singapore's Changi Airport and had to make an emergency return. Like a prodigal child, the plane is certainly "more honored in the breach" as William Shakespeare might describe it.

 But it remains to be seen whether this is an "all well that ends well" story or a "Never, three times a week," assessment as Woody Allen's character in the movie Annie Hall once said in complaining about how infrequently he was having sex.

Photo of damaged engine courtesy ATSB
Did the world's largest passenger jet come through brilliantly after the uncontained engine failure severed lines and disabled vital systems on the plane carrying 466 people? Every airline flying the A380, (Singapore and Lufthansa and of course Qantas) and even those without the Rolls Royce engines (Air France, Emirates, Etihad and Korean Air)  is certainly hoping that is the case. And as Woody Allen said in his autobiography, “If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.”

But there are those who continue to shake their heads over just how much of a failure was the A380 that was Qantas Flight 32 that day. I've written at length about this in the past, which you can see here. You can look at it either way, but the big commercial money is betting that "nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so," thank you Bill Shakespeare, these days we call that "spin".

Photo courtesy Airservices/Paul Sadler
This morning at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport; water cannons greeted the arrival of VH-OQA and on the flight deck, the pilots of the ferry flight replied to their landing clearance with a heartfelt "It's good to be home," according to Richard De Crespigny, the media-dubbed Captain Fantastic who was in the left seat of the airplane back when this whole story began in 2010.  His book is scheduled to be published this summer and a television documentary is in the works. When anyone asks, De Crespigny is always quick to say of the A380, "It performed brilliantly, it is indestructible."

Qantas executives Alan Joyce and Alan Milne with De Crespigny
Whether being quaffed in Sydney, Airbus HQ in Toulouse or Rolls Royce's office in Bristol, none of today's champagne swilling comes cheap. The flight 32 affair has been a "plague on all their houses"

Australian media reports making the plane airworthy again cost $130 million, about fifty percent of the cost of an A380 purchased new. Rolls Royce paid millions in compensation to Qantas and everyone associated with the world's largest jumbo jet has suffered from a slight loss of confidence in the airplane.  

But here it is Sunday morning, and I don't want to rain on the parade. It is indeed good news that Qantas and Airbus avoided the dread "hull loss" by putting the A380 back in the airline's fleet. Soon it will be carrying passengers again.  

And if the air safety folks still looking into the  gritty details of everything that went amiss on the airplane 16 months ago do their job well, they will remember Shakespeare's words in As You Like It, "sweet are the uses of adversity."  These days we call that "lessons learned."

Painting of Qantas Flight 32 by Jaak de Koninck



Cedarglen said...

If you look really hard, I think you will discover that the failed engine was #2, not #3.

Christine Negroni said...

You are correct. The uncontained failure was engine 2. Thanks.

G McAlea said...

Nice to see you could quote Shakespear on his birthday!!