Internal Qantas Memo Flags Errors By Out-Of-Practice Pilots

Some formerly grounded Qantas pilots getting back in the air have lost their shine, according to a leaked confidential internal memo. That memo says some grounded pilots “have lost recency and experienced a subsequent reduction in cognitive capacity.”

A leaked Qantas memo suggests out-of-practice pilots are now making errors. Photo: Getty Images

Out-of-practice pilots making some rookie errors

Nine Entertainment’s Matt O’Sullivan broke the story overnight after obtaining a memo written by Qantas’ fleet operations boss, Captain Alex Scamps. He says some out-of-practice pilots are making basic errors that aren’t necessarily dangerous but reflect a recent lack of flying.

The memo identifies errors such as commencing take-off procedures with the park brake set, misidentification of altitude as airspeed, incorrectly setting cockpit switches, repeated unstable approaches, and a general lack of situational awareness.

“Routine items that used to be completed with a minimum of effort now occupy more time and divert attention away from flying the aircraft,” the memo read.

“Combined with reduced flying across the network, we recognize a flow-on effect for flight crew’s focus and familiarity with the operation.”

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Qantas had parked many of its planes, leaving many pilots temporarily out of work. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas checks and balances pick up the problems

The memo also referenced an infamous incident last year when the wheels on a Qantas jet taking off wouldn’t retract after the ground crew failed to remove two gear pins before pushing back. However, this incident could be categorized as an engineering error rather than a pilot error.

“Things that come as second nature now take a bit longer when you are not doing it every day,” Strategic Aviation Solutions Chairman Neil Hansford told ABC Radio on Wednesday. Mr Hansford suggested things were not quite as problematic at Qantas as a quick scan of the memo would suggest.

He praised the airline for retaining its check and training captains and simulator facilities throughout the travel downturn. Now, as those captains put out-of-practice pilots through their license renewal process, they are seeing mistakes made.

“It’s a two-crew operation,” Mr Hansford notes. “Everything you do is checked by the person beside you. The person flying is checked by the non-flying pilot. Don’t over-estimate the safety concerns (in the memo).”

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Qantas retained its top captains (pictured) who are now seeing errors when training up other pilots. Photo: Qantas

Ingrained cultural issues at Qantas causing trouble?

The Strategic Aviation Solutions Chairman says the errors are being picked up in training rather than on actual passenger flights. But Mr Hansford points to some ingrained cultural issues at Qantas that drive troublemaking behavior, such as, say, leaking memos.

“One of the problems at Qantas is you’ve got a group of people who believe they’re elite. They still don’t understand Qantas isn’t owned by the government (anymore), and there’s not just a bottomless pit to throw money at their avarice.

“A bit more loyalty from the Qantas pilots, a bit more commitment to doing their job properly, and this story wouldn’t exist.”

Ouch. A Qantas spokesperson said getting pilot skills and muscle memory back up to scratch was a complicated process.

“We recognized very early that we needed to think differently about pilot recency, currency, and refamiliarisation programs, and so we designed an enhanced return-to-work program fit for the unprecedented challenge facing our industry,” the Nine Entertainment report cites the spokesperson saying.

“Safety is our number one priority, and all of the data shows that our pilots are coming back with the skills and confidence to do their job safely.”

Alex Scamps, who also moonlights as Chairman of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, acknowledges it isn’t easy to pick for pilots to immediately pick up where they left off 18 months ago. He adds Qantas will support pilots and put safety and compliance ahead of benchmarks such as on-time performance at all times.

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