Less than a month before Qantas releases a strategic update and ahead of a cabinet decision on whether government help will be provided to the airline, Senator Nick Xenophon has given directors seven days to respond to a series of requests that go to the heart of their duties.

It is little surprise Senator Xenophon is now trying to pressure the board with a formal written request after being a vocal critic of the company and its strategy over the past few years. In December he called on them to resign, along with chief executive Alan Joyce.

The letter, sent on January 28, asked for written assurances from each director that they had made an ''independent assessment'' of a series of statements in relation to the airline's international division and Jetstar in Asia.

''I write at this juncture due to several factors,'' he said. ''These include the announcement made by Qantas late last year as to the profitability of its operations; the downgrading of the debt status; the shedding of jobs; and the fall in the share price.''

Senator Xenophon was referring to the airline's surprise downgrade late last year followed by a downgrade of its credit rating to junk as well, as calls came from Mr Joyce for the government to level the playing field.

The dire state of financial affairs came as a shock given a few weeks before Qantas was in the market buying back its shares, and in August it was telling shareholders it had reason to be optimistic.

The letter tries to get to the bottom of some serious statements made in Qantas' application in support of its alliance with Emirates. These comments, that Qantas International is in ''terminal decline'', were rejected out of hand by the ACCC.

''In light of your obligations as a director, including the need to exercise an independent assessment of information provided to you, can you please assure me that you … made an independent assessment of the information provided to you, which supported that statement by Qantas to the ACCC,'' Senator Xenophon wrote.

The ACCC gave the green light to the alliance but said it ''does not accept or rely on Qantas' claim that Qantas International is in terminal decline and unable to compete effectively or operate profitably''. These comments gave a lot of food for thought to those who believe the international business has been a patsy for the growth of Jetstar .

Besides the international business, Senator Xenophon also wants the board to provide similar assurances, including steps had been taken to ''satisfy the accuracy'' of comments made by Mr Joyce and chief financial officer Gareth Evans about the airline's finances, Qantas International and Jetstar in Asia.

Mr Evans wrote in an editorial, which appeared in Fairfax Media, that total equity investment in its Asian businesses was less than a single A380 jumbo jet.

For Qantas the letter and its concerns are like groundhog day. ''Senator Xenophon's letter to the Qantas board raises similar claims to ones he has made over several years in a number of forums, ranging from press conferences to a Senate inquiry. Our position … remains unchanged,'' a Qantas spokesman said.

Senator Xenophon's position is equally unchanged. He was recently quoted saying: ''The Qantas Sale Act doesn't need changing, it's the board and management that need to go. If the failed strategies of Alan Joyce and the Qantas board were made into a movie, it would be called Dude, Where's My Airline?''

He has a point. Besides years of relentless cost cutting and staff cuts and route closures, management is set to release the findings of a strategic review, which could include the sale or partial sale of some assets.

Qantas is blaming the mess on numerous factors including the obstructionist nature of the Qantas Sales Act and an unlevel playing field. Indeed Mr Joyce recently hit the headlines with accusations that its rival Virgin was creating an ''unprecedented distortion in the market'' with its strategy to seek ''majority ownership and massive financial backing from foreign government-owned airlines''.

What he hasn't done is blame himself or the board for decisions that ultimately are boxing the airline into a corner. Some would argue the decision to withdraw and ''gift'' routes to Emirates was hugely positive for Emirates, but for Qantas, abandoning routes that to Europe were the backstay, could well end in tears.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see whether the board fobs off the letter with sweeping statements or treats each request with details of any steps taken to assess such differing assertions. My money's on the former but I would be happy to stand corrected.