SYDNEY — HAVING one of the world's best airline safety records may seem like a blessing, but at Australia's Qantas Airlines, company spokesmen are hesitant to toot their corporate horn.
Quantas has not lost a single airliner in its 50-year history. But Quantas spokesman Mark Williams shies away from discussing their safety record -- ''because it could be us someday.''
The international airline and island continent enjoy one of the world's best flight-safety records due to a combination of high standards and good fortune, say Qantas and Australian civil-aviation officials.
Exacting standards and training are a factor, according to Mr. Williams, but there is no ''magic key'' to airline safety. ''We have very good procedures in place,'' Williams says, ''But it's not like we can say here are the three [reasons] that do it.''
Derek Roylance, a spokesman for the Australian Civil Aviation Authority, says such uncontrollable factors as isolation, geology, and weather patterns play a major role in making Australia safe for planes.
''In this country we don't have to put up with complex weather conditions,'' Mr. Roylance says. ''We don't have to put up with the traffic congestion of some other areas, and we don't have any really high mountain ranges.''
STATE-RUN Qantas is scheduled to be sold this year by the government as part of an ongoing privatization program, but Roylance and Williams say there will be no change in standards at Qantas or Australia's other large state-run carrier, Ansett Airlines.
''There are a lot of people who tell us our [government] standards should be used worldwide,'' Roylance says. ''But we may also have been very, very lucky. We've had some very, very nasty near-miss situations.''
In what could have been the worst air accident in world history, three passenger jets nearly collided at Sydney airport four years ago. Air-traffic controllers and the pilot of an Ansett 747, which was landing, screamed at the pilot of a Thai Airlines 747 to stop his plane from taxiing across a runway. The Thai plane stopped in time.
Turbo-prop planes have also repeatedly crashed in Australia. Australia's worst airline accident was in 1966. A turbo-prop flying in the Australian state of Queensland broke up in flight after a fire broke out on the plane. All 26 people on board were killed.