Qantas flight to Fiji forced to turn back after ‘potential mechanical issue’

A Qantas flight to Fiji was forced to return to Sydney Airport on Thursday after the aircraft’s fault indicators signalled a potential mechanical issue.

QF101 from Sydney to Nadi spent close to two hours circling off the coast of NSW as it awaited a slot before landing at about 10.50am AEDT. The grounded flight is the second incident for the airline in two days, after an engine failure on a Boeing 737-838 travelling to Sydney from Auckland resulted in a temporary mayday alert on Wednesday.

The grounded Boeing 737-800 is the second in-flight issue to affect the airline in just two days. Credit:Wolter Peeters

A Qantas spokesperson said the aircraft’s pilots returned the Boeing 737-800 headed for Fiji as a precaution in keeping with the carrier’s safety guidelines, and did not indicate an emergency situation.

“The pilots followed standard procedures and the aircraft has landed normally in Sydney.”

The twin-engine aircraft was not given priority landing by AirServices Australia – the government body that regulates Australia’s skies – as it was not an emergency situation.

Fault indicators are lights inside the cockpit, which illuminate automatically in response to a potential hazard. The fault indicator prompting the pilots to turn back did not relate to an issue with the engine. The airline’s engineers will now examine the aircraft.

The Qantas spokesperson said the carrier was working on organising a new flight to Fiji for the affected passengers and thanked them for their patience.

In the days before Christmas, a Qantas Sydney-to-London flight via Singapore was forced to make an emergency landing in Azerbaijan after pilots observed a fault indicator in the cockpit. This occurred due to a faulty fire sensor in the cargo hold.

Following up on Wednesday’s incident on the flight from New Zealand, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has commenced an investigation into the engine failure, which will be conducted by three transport safety investigators with experience in aircraft maintenance, operations and data recovery.

The bureau will use cockpit voice recordings and flight data to determine the cause of the fault. The scope of the investigation and its timeframe are yet to be determined.

Passengers on Wednesday’s flight said they felt a “slight shudder” as the engine stopped over the Tasman Sea and were notified of a “slight malfunction”, but were not told about the mayday call until the plane landed.

A Qantas spokesperson said the aircraft experienced an issue with one of its two engines about an hour from Sydney and issued a mayday alert – otherwise known as “squawking 7700” – in line with standard procedures.

“While in flight, engine shutdowns are rare, and would naturally be concerning for passengers. Our pilots are trained to manage them safely and aircraft are designed to fly for an extended period on one engine,” the spokesperson said.

Mayday is the word used by aviators to signal a life-threatening emergency. The mayday alert was downgraded to a PAN (possible assistance needed), which alerts the relevant airspace authorities to an abnormal situation so that the aircraft can be prioritised for landing, but indicates a significantly less severe situation.

Boeing 737s can fly safely with a single engine. The aircraft known as VH-XZB has been in operation for 10 years and seats 174 passengers.

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