Ian Lock and his Aston Martin.
The Qantas rats may have struck again.
In June last year, Qantas was forced to ground one of its passenger jets after rats were found on board.
Now the national carrier faces a lawsuit from one of its Platinum customers who alleges that rats chewed through the wiring on his Aston Martin.
Ian Lock, a liquidator from Adelaide, says he dropped off his brand new Aston Martin at Qantas Valet parking on August 16, but when he picked it up the next day he found that rats had chewed through the wiring.
“I complained to Qantas, expecting an explanation, apology or offer of compensation,” Mr Lock told BusinessDay. But nothing was forthcoming so he filed a lawsuit in the Magistrate’s Court.
Qantas is yet to respond to the allegations. The news has come at a difficult time for airline chief executive Alan Joyce who faces criticism for savage cost cuts to the carrier’s heavy maintenance division.
Although not as serious as last year’s discovery of the stowaway rats on a Boeing 767 – which had been dubbed the “Rodentgate” scandal in the press - this second incident may establish a pattern of rats.
Mr Lock said that as a Platinum One Frequent Flyer with the airline he had “expected a modicum of courtesy" from Qantas.
“However, after nearly three months without a single word from Qantas, despite numerous emails and telephone calls by me, I issued a small claim in the Magistrates Court."
Qantas has responded with a letter from its lawyers Ashurst, who have significant expertise in this area.
“(They are) threatening me with indemnity costs if I didn’t withdraw my claim forthwith, saying that otherwise Qantas had no option but to pursue the matter to judgment,” said Mr Lock.
“The irony is that I take about 30 domestic flights and four overseas flights each year, nearly all business. Since the rat incident both my wife and I have travelled exclusively with Virgin – 12 domestic trips and three overseas trips booked, in three months, all business class.”
Mr Lock filed his claim – Ian Russell Lock v Qantas Airways Limited – in the South Australian Magistrates Court on October 22 claiming negligence, breach of contract and breach of duty of care.
According to the claim, the damage to the wiring on the engine harness appeared to have been made by “a rat or rats”. His mechanic advised that the cost of a new engine harness would be $9297.
Ashurst has demanded that unless Mr Lock withdrew his claim by 4pm this afternoon, it would pursue the matter to judgment and seek to recover costs. Ashurst’s costs are expected to be very high. Qantas is aiming to file and serve its defence to the matter by November 29.
Qantas told BusinessDay that while it understood Mr Lock's frustration at what happened to his car, there was nothing to suggest the incident happened while it was parked with the airline.
“Naturally we take the fact people leave their cars with us seriously, so we had an independent pest expert do a thorough investigation and they found no evidence of rats in the area," a spokesman said.
"We’ve never had an issue like this out of the thousands of cars that use our valet service in Adelaide every year. The most likely explanation was that the rats had entered the car somewhere else.”
It is understood that the rats in question are not the same rats as were discovered last year in the emergency medical equipment on board the ill-fated 767.
Those particular rats were found at Mascot in Sydney, prior to take off, and were believed to have been subsequently exterminated by the airline.
Neither is it known at this point in time whether they are of the same species of rodent as the Sydney rats – though they appear to share a taste for wire.
Australian Workers Union heavyweight Paul Howes was unavailable for comment.