Australian civil aviation officials on Sunday announced an unprecedented special review of Qantas after three mid-air dramas in the space of two weeks threatened to tarnish its safety record.
The investigation by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) came as flight attendants asked top company officials for a special meeting and assurances that Qantas planes were safe.
Qantas prides itself on its extremely good safety record, having never lost a plane to an accident, but recent incidents including a mid-air blast that ripped a large hole in the fuselage have dented its image.
CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said to his knowledge the review was unprecedented. A senior authority official, Mick Quinn, would head the inquiry, which would take about two weeks, Gibson said.
"We want to look at their safety systems to make sure that the systems are operating the way they should," Gibson told AFP. "All these things are stated in manuals. We want to make sure that what is in the manuals is being done."
Gibson said recent audits of Qantas procedures had not shown up any problems, but following the latest incident on Saturday, the authority felt it was "prudent" to make extra checks.
On Saturday a Qantas Boeing 767 bound for Manila was forced to turn back to Sydney after developing a leak of hydraulic fluid while in the air. It followed two other safety scares.
On July 25, a Qantas Boeing 747-400 en route to Melbourne from Hong Kong made an emergency landing in Manila after a blast believed to have been caused by an exploding oxygen cylinder ripped a large hole in its fuselage.
And last Monday, a Qantas 737-800 was forced to return to Adelaide after a landing gear door failed to retract.
Qantas banks heavily on its image as the world's safest airline. In the movie "Rain Man", it was famously cited by the autistic central character played by Dustin Hoffman as the only airline he was prepared to travel on.
However, the latest incidents have left even Qantas' own staff concerned about its record. Flight attendants made a special request at the weekend to meet senior management to discuss the problems.
"We want some assurances from the company that these are isolated incidents," said Steven Reed, president of the Flight Attendants' Association of Australia. "Or are they something we should be concerned about?
"We need to meet with the company at a senior level to have these assurances."
A Qantas spokesman said he expected a meeting would be held within the next week.
In recent years, Qantas has gone through major changes with the launch of a low-cost subsidiary, Jetstar, which is in the process of expanding into Asia. Jetstar's chief executive Alan Joyce was recently named as the new chief executive of Qantas, to replace Geoff Dixon.
One of the changes has been increased outsourcing of maintenance by the airline to centres overseas, including in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines, which engineers have loudly criticised.
Recent incidents involving outsourcing included one where flight attendants were receiving electric shocks in a galley due to faulty wiring and another where emergency lighting failed to work properly, an engineering union official told AFP.
While it would be wrong to blame outsourcing for every problem, Wayne Vasta said, there had been a "change in culture" within the company over the last five years.
Demands from management for cost-cutting were the driving factor, said Vasta, assistant federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers' Association.
Qantas engineers in the past had simply been driven by the need to do the best job they possibly could, Vasta said.
"Now it appears we have got to do the best job we can possibly do, within a budget," he said, welcoming the CASA's investigation.