Melodrama or Meaningful? Unpacking the Qantas Turnback Scandal


The start of 2023 hasn’t been kind to Qantas. Since mid-January, six of the airline’s flights haven’t made it to their destination due to a variety of snafus. Additionally, this Qantas turnback drama has been gobbled up by the media at large. 

These notable events include:

January 18

On January 18, the Qantas flight QF144 dropped a mayday call. This is because one of its Boeing 737-800 engines had failed while flying from Auckland to Sydney. The emergency warning was later downgraded and the plane landed safely.

January 19

On January 19, Qantas flight QF101 didn’t make it from Sydney to Fiji. It was turned around and landed back where it started. This flight was cancelled due to “potential mechanical issues.”

January 20

On January 20, two Qantas flights in Melbourne were turned around. Both of these flights may have had minor mechanical problems.

January 22

On January 22, Qantas flight QF102 didn’t fly from Fiji to Sydney. It instead landed in the Fijian city of Nadi. This flight was cancelled due to an oven in the plane’s galley being responsible for some haze and smoke.

January 24

On January 24, Qantas flight QF887 didn’t go from Adelaide to Perth. Like the others, it was forced to do a turnback. This situation occurred because Qantas didn’t complete the necessary paperwork before taking off. 

Is This Melodrama? 

Now, this string of six turnbacks has raised some important questions. Those being: Is this turnback number par for the course? Is this situation normal? Has the media coverage of these flights been melodramatic? 

Well, if you’re hungry for the answers to such q’s, then you’ve come to the right buffet. Here are the facts of this matter.

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The Qantas Response

After the fifth turnback, the CEO of Qantas Domestic and International, Andrew David, commented on the situation. He believes the current rate of turnbacks isn’t an issue. 

“The global aviation industry would average about 10,000 diversions or air turnbacks per year,” said David. “We average about 60 per year. Yes, we’ve had four or five in the last week or so. But our pilots are trained always to err on the side of caution.”

So, was the media coverage of this week of snafus overblown? Well, according to Qantas’ own data, from January 18 until January 24, they would have had a higher number of turnbacks than usual. If Qantas was averaging six turnbacks a week, the number of flights that would do this in 2023 would be 312, not 60.

However, that being said, this number of Qantas flights that turned back is no cause for alarm. This is because Qantas is very happy with the health of its current fleet. 

As David said, “They were all completely different issues… I’d be more worried about the airlines that don’t turn back than the airlines that do.”

“We will investigate each and every one of them. We will find out what the issues were, and we will address them.” 

There is still plenty of time for Qantas to hit less than 60 turnbacks this year. But they should maybe skip having a paperwork mishap again.

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