Qantas 767-300. By Rob Finlayson

Qantas (QF) confirmed to ATW that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is investigating the alleged sabotage of one of its 265-seat Boeing 767s in Brisbane Oct. 26 while the aircraft was undergoing upgrade work.

The airline is tight-lipped on the details but ATW understands that after engineers returned from a lunch break they noticed several wires were cut on an inflight entertainment system. Further investigation by the engineers revealed more severed wires had been covered up.

On Tuesday, a QF spokesperson declined to give further details other than to confirm the AFP were investigating the incident and insist that safety “was never at risk.”

However, the risk of more serious sabotage apparently was the reason for the delay in QF getting its fleet back in the air Monday after Saturday’s unprecedented grounding, which left more than 70,000 passengers stranded.

After the incident, apparently Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority insisted on a comprehensive sabotage risk mitigation strategy for QF with more thorough checks of all critical systems.

The airline has been engaged in a bitter 10-month dispute with three unions—the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Assn., Australian and International Pilots Assn. and the Transport Workers Union—over new labor contracts, which culminated in QF grounding its fleet Saturday and appealing to Fair Work Australia (FWA) for a lockout of union members (ATW Daily News, Nov. 1).

According to sources, QF detailed concerns about the sabotage in its confidential submissions to FWA over the lockout. The submission, authored by the airline’s head of safety Susan D’Ath Weston, raised a number of risk scenarios, including flight crew distraction, intentional unsafe acts by flight crew, and intentional unsafe acts by ground crew and engineers that would be undiscoverable by flight crew.

Weston’s assessment concluded that grounding the fleet immediately after the lockout was announced Saturday substantially reduced the risk of sabotage.

As of Friday, QF said it lost A$68 million ($72 million) as a result of the union disputes.