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Australia Forms Special Team to Investigate Qantas Airlines

Australia's aviation authorities have formed a special team to investigate Qantas airlines after three mid-air dramas in recent weeks. The decision comes after a Qantas flight to the Philippine capital, Manila, made an emergency landing at Sydney Airport Saturday after leaking hydraulic fluid. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Safety officials have stressed that there is no need for Qantas passengers to panic despite recent emergencies.

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority - known as CASA - has said it has no evidence to suggest that standards at Qantas have slipped, but has ordered an immediate investigation as a precaution. A spokesman said it was "prudent and wise" to do so.

A specialist team will look at the airline's maintenance systems and emergency procedures.

The review has been prompted by three mid-air dramas. This weekend a Qantas Boeing 767 bound for Manila had to turn back to Sydney after leaking hydraulic fluid. Last Monday problems with landing gear forced a domestic flight to return to Adelaide.

In July, an exploding oxygen cylinder ripped a large hole in the fuselage of a Qantas jet en route from London to Melbourne. It had to be diverted to the Philippines and all passengers and crew escaped unharmed.

Despite the recent emergencies, Qantas' executive general manager of engineering, David Cox, says the company has nothing to hide from investigators.

"I think we're a bit of a victim of our own success," he said. "Qantas' safety standards are so high and so well recognized that when we do have an accident like the other day with OJK, the aircraft in Manila; it's big news. And look we're not afraid of the scrutiny that you know, that's what the business is about, that's what CASA's there for; we're not afraid of that scrutiny."

Although Australia's national carrier does have a good safety record its proud reputation has been dented. Trade unions have insisted that the outsourcing of maintenance contracts overseas has affected standards, allegations that senior managers at Qantas have strongly rejected.

The investigation into safety standards at Qantas will be carried out by senior aviation engineers and independent maintenance experts.

The review will be take place over the next two weeks. Qantas has agreed to cooperate fully with the inquiry.