The Flying (Roo) Doctor Service
Published on 2nd June 2017

Not a bad view from the office: Flying spanner Nathan Porter works on one of Dash 8 propeller aircraft which needed repairs after arriving on Lord Howe Island

Our mates at QantasLink have a group of aircraft engineers called the Flying Spanners.  Think of them like the friendly mechanic who drives out to fix your car when you’ve broken down. Except these aircraft engineers will usually be flown into remote or regional destinations to get one of our planes back into service.

Say one of our Q400 aircraft needs a once over after a cockpit indicator light was noticed upon landing in Longreach, which is about 1,200km west of Brisbane. The pilots will radio QantasLink’s operations centre who will then tell the Flying Spanners.

Depending on the issue, one or two engineers will jump on the next QantasLink flight to Longreach.  If there’s no more flights that day, an engineer could find himself buckled up in a private jet.

Almost ready for take off: Final checks are prope(llery) completed before given the all clear

Nathan Porter is one of QantasLink’s Flying Spanners and while he enjoys being on the road and in the air, getting an aircraft back into service is a big responsibility.

“It might look like the rock and roll lifestyle as you fly in, but there’s pressure. I want to get the aircraft serviceable so we can get people on their way,” he says.

Once the aircraft is ready for service, Nathan will usually join the rest of the passengers for the flight home (how’s that for reassurance), where he’ll often become a source of inflight entertainment.

“Passengers always want to know what’s going on and some passengers can be quite upset after copping a delay, which is fair enough. When you tell them what’s caused it and that the safety of the aircraft and the passengers has the upmost importance, they’re usually very understanding.”

Dropping in to a remote community also comes with another challenge: where to find a bed for the night. If we do have to overnight, the delayed passengers will take up the last of the hotel rooms.

On occasion some engineers have been known to grab a good night’s sleep on the couch or spare room of a friendly local over on Lord Howe Island when there are no rooms at the inn.

So why don’t we just have engineers at every airport? Given we fly to more than 60 places, it’s not really practical. And given how reliable modern aircraft are, there wouldn’t be much to do in every port.

So it’s more efficient to have engineering bases at our major ports and in the rare event of technical issue, a Flying Spanner can be quickly dispatched to get the aircraft and passengers on their way.

Given the long distances and remote locations we fly to, we do a lot of what’s called “preventative maintenance”, so just like you might get your car serviced at regular intervals, we do the same on our aircraft – check it out here.

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