Qantas downgraded on Safety Index
Qantas only ranks 13th in the world in terms of airline safety according to a European group of airline safety enthusiasts, a far cry from the previously prized number one ranking immortalised by Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man.
Trans-Tasman rival, Air New Zealand, ranked as the world's second-safest airline in the same rankings, behind only Finland's national carrier Finnair.
Qantas's chief rival in Australia, Virgin Australia, was ranked ninth.
The Germany-based Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center, or JACDEC, calculates its annual rankings based on aircraft loss accidents and serious incidents where an accident nearly occurred over the past 30 years.
The resulting Safety Index relates the accidents to the revenue per passenger kilometre [RPK] performed by the airline over the same time.
Cathay Pacific ranked third, followed by Emirates and then Etihad Airways which was only established in 2003.
Qantas fell two places to 13th in the annual rankings despite a similarly clean aircraft loss record since 1983, however JACDEC director Jan Richter said Qantas had experienced multiple incidents where a serious accident had nearly occurred in recent years.
"While in the recent years Qantas experienced multiple of these type of incidents, Air New Zealand and Finnair remained mostly free of them," Richter said.
JACDEC had not published its data on the so-called serious incidents, which Richter said had less of a weighting on the Safety Index than aircraft loss accidents and fatalities.
Air New Zealand's chief flight operations and safety officer David Morgan said the recognition was testament to the airline's dedication to maintaining a strong safety culture.
"Safety is paramount and non-negotiable at Air New Zealand," Morgan said. "We have worked hard as an airline to create a safety culture which has been embraced by more than 10,000 employees and it's very pleasing to have been recognised by an external agency."
The index data does not go as far back as New Zealand's worst airline disaster in 1979 when Air New Zealand flight TE901 crashed into Antarctica's Mount Erebus killing 257 passengers and crew.
It also leaves out the loss of three pilots, three engineers and an aviation inspector when an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 plunged into the Mediterranean Sea in November 2008 on a test flight before rejoining the airline's commercial fleet.
China Airlines comes in at 60th place in the rankings with eight aircraft losses and 755 deaths since 1983, including the death of 264 passengers and crew during a crash on landing at Japan's Nagoya Airport in 1994.
The union traditionally responsible for the maintenance of Qantas planes said Qantas would continue to fall in the rankings if the carrier continued to pay "lip-service" to safety.
Steve Purvinas, general secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, accused the airline of "turning a blind eye to problems".
"Qantas are going to continue to decline in that ranking as long as they pay lip service to safety. They're not interested in anything other than profits," Mr Purvinas said. "They used to promote the best engineering. Now they will promote those who'll turn a blind eye to problems.
"Qantas used to be proud of their engineering, and companies like Rolls Royce and Boeing would send their people to Australia to learn about aircraft engines and aircrafts themselves. These days, with all these non-aviation managers in charge of the airline, they just see engines as nothing more than a cost.
Aviation consultant and senior lecturer at the University of NSW, Péter Marosszéky, praised the credibility of the survey, though noted that if it were not for the presence of problematic Rolls Royce A380 engines, which a number of reputable airlines have adopted, Qantas would have ranked much higher.
Mr Marosszéky said that while the statistics used in the JACDEC are accurate they do not reflect the new generation aircraft and engines that the operators such as Lufthansa, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Qantas are utilising. In November 2010 a Qantas A380 made a dramatic emergency landing at Singapore's Changi Airport after problems with an engine manufactured by Rolls Royce.
"This is not a reputable index recognised by the aviation industry or safety experts," said a spokesperson for Qantas.
"Our safety record speaks for itself.
"Qantas' approach to safety is recognised by safety regulators and reputable aviation industry experts around the world."
Sydney Morning Herald