Airline officials from Quantas were last night hoping that an investigation into Friday's incident over the South China Sea would prove that the 'World's Safest airline' was not flying 'rust buckets'.
Here at Ninoy Aquino International airport the Quantas station chief Ernie Gray accompanied four members of Australia's Air Transport Safety Bureau as they examined the damage to the Boeing 747-400 on flight QF30, which had to make a controlled dive from 29,000 ft after an explosive decompression.
Meanwhile simultaneously at a press conference in Sydney Quantas boss Geoff Dixon said that reports that corrosion could be a contributing factor 'could be discounted'.
At stake is Quantas' almost unrivalled reputation for flight safety marred only by inidents such as an aborted take off in the US and a botched landing in Bangkok.
The airline's engineering chief David Cox however admitted that Friday's problem was 'very serious'. 'I was horrified,' he said.
The 'rust bucket' corrosion theory was reported in yesterday's Sydney Daily Telegraph which said that the aircraft had been 'plagued with a history of corrosion'. Engineers had claimed the considerable corrosion was found on the plane when it was refitted in Avalon in Melbourne, earlier this year. Pilots were also unhappy with outsourcing engineering work.
But behind these claims has been strike action by engineers and unhappy break up in the airlines maintenance department on an airline, which has never had a fatality on a civil flight.
Maintenance work has recently been further 'off-shored' to Singapore, Malaysia. The Quantas' home maintenance base, once all together in Sydney, has now been split and responsibilities shared with Melbourne.
So far many theories have been aired as to what caused the explosion on the 747, on route from London to Melbourne via Hong Kong. Sources here said yesterday that investigators were looking oxygen bottles which could have exploded and caused the breach of the fuselage and a 2 metre wide whole above its right wing fairing?
Could there have been an explosion of say an aerosol in a passenger's luggage?
Was the riveting on an aircraft panel faulty?
The bomb theory appears to have been ruled out at an early stage by aviation experts from pictures of the 4 x 2 metre hole alone.
Geoff Dixon insisted that there was nothing unusual in the aircraft's age.
'I do not concede Qantas has a problem. Qantas has a fleet of average age of about 10 years which is pretty much the world average.'
When this particular 747 was being refitted in Avalon in March the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the results of an internal audit on one particular maintenance facility in Singapore. The audit found that 'screws were left scattering on wings exposing them to damage, metal tools were used on stabilisers, which expose the surface to cracking, and floor panels were bogged up with filler rather than replaced'.
At Manila airport's Command Centre Dante Basanta, assistant manager, said: 'The ATSB are being given all co-operation here in their investigation. They will need more time, I am sure, before coming to copper bottomed solution as to what happened.'