14.12.20

A Great Example Of Safety Leadership At Qantas

So, it is New Year’s Day, and my wife and I have been up since 3.30am, to get to Sydney in time to board a plane bound for Osaka in Japan! So excited.

We are seated comfortably on the plane, we are watching our first movie, and the pilot is pushing back. Life is good.

Then, the pilot announces that we will be pulling back in, due to a noise in the hydraulic system, we will be unloaded (with a $20 lunch voucher) and the plane will take off over 5 hours later than scheduled.

I wonder how much courage it took to make that call – to disrupt the travel plans of 280 plus passengers (A-330) – with trains stopping in Osaka at midnight (how are we going to leave the airport – I am writing this from the Qantas Club), my wife and I were due to pick up our Japanese sim card before 10pm (not anymore) … and there would be another hundred stories of delay caused inconveniences.

And that is nothing on the challenges that the airport had, getting us back inside – we had officially left the country.

So, was it courageous, or would that have been an easy decision for the pilot (I am not sure – I did try to ask him, but could only get the Cabin Manager – true story)? I am guessing there would have been some from column A and some from Column B. A hydraulic issue could be minor, or it could cause a major catastrophe, and as a pilot, I am guessing that they are well trained, well drilled and very aware of both the functions of the plane, as well as the functions of their employer, who are one of the safest airlines on the planet, and who are now down at least say $6k, just on lunches …

My personal take on the situation

  • It is very inconvenient
  • We are on holidays, so not in a huge rush – and flight delays usually cost me money, as I miss speaking gigs – not on this occasion
  • Not sure what will happen when we get to Japan … will be interesting … and just another adventure
  • As a Frequent Flyer, Qantas are an amazing business, they bend over backwards to assist and I try not to fly anyone else – this is the biggest delay that I can remember
  • What is the worst that can happen to my wife or I in the Qantas Club, as I sit and type this … not much … different if something failed over Cairns and we fell out of the sky …
  • We won’t make any news program tonight (which is great)
  • I use the story of ‘Sully’ and the Hudson River landing in my trainings, and can get the decision that the pilot made today

So, as a leadership story, today has been interesting to reflect on.

Big decisions do take courage, and they take conviction. They take the ability to make a call, rally the troops, back the decision, make changes, and get on with it. And, in simple terms, that is about what has happened today. That pilot would not be popular right now, as all of his passengers sit waiting for their flight.

I would go so far as to congratulate the pilot and thank him for putting our safety first.

And, what was interesting was that he ‘heard’ a sound as the plane was turning – though even the pilot explained that it all seemed to work fine as he taxied back in to the terminal (the situation all seemed a little dramatic for a noise that the Engineers seemed unable to replicate during the fault finding process – and, they tried for a long time). Even more reason to think that the pilot’s decision was a very courageous one …


Anton Guinea is the safety leadership expert. His journey is unique, having survived a workplace incident which he transformed from a cautionary story into powerful, psychology-based safety programs that has moved the hearts and minds of organisations globally. 

For 15 years, Anton has worked with over 150+ businesses and their leaders, to help make safety safe; safe to talk about, to engage in, and to report about. Working in the space of where Safety meets Leadership, Anton founded The Guinea Group as the safety support network to help businesses to LEADsafe365.

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