WATCHING two of its 747s collide on the tarmac might have been embarrassing for Qantas, but it is the loss of at least $20 million in revenue while the planes are repaired that will hurt the most.
The towing accident at Qantas's Avalon maintenance facility in Victoria last Tuesday was played down by the airline's head of engineering, David Cox.
But pictures of the incident obtained by the Herald reveal damage that a leading aviation engineer says could cost the airline millions, providing a headache for its new chief executive, Alan Joyce.
The pictures, taken minutes after the collision, show that the wing of one aircraft had sheared into the other, ripping a hole in the plane's nose. The damaged plane is the same craft that was forced to make an emergency landing in Manila in July after an exploding gas bottle ripped a large hole in the fuselage. It was due to return to service within days.
Peter Marosszeky, a former maintenance and engineering manager at United Airlines, said that a number of costly components appeared to be damaged. "It appears that the radar antennae and the raydome are damaged and the forward pressure bulkhead could possibly be damaged," he said.
"Depending on the availability of parts, staff and hangar space you're looking at between two and three weeks before its repaired."
Mr Marosszeky, now a senior visiting fellow at the University of NSW, said that normally a 747-400 operator would lose $1.1 million for each day the aircraft was grounded. With both aircraft out of action for a total of about 30 days, according to Qantas, the total damages bill could easily exceed $20 million.
A Qantas spokesman said the cost to the airline was "nowhere near the figure you are quoting", but did not provide a specific amount. "We will have no difficulties at all repairing the aircraft and one will be back in service in two days, and the other in two weeks," he said.
Yesterday a Qantas insider told the Herald that the collision occurred when maintenance workers misjudged a turn and then were unable to stop the plane in time.