Qantas has scored a significant victory with its plans to conduct ultra-long-haul flights to London and New York after a union agreement won 85 percent support from long-haul pilots voting.
Although Project Sunrise has been set back by the COVID-19 crisis, the long-haul vote by about 1400 pilots removes a major stumbling block for the ambitious project by setting terms and conditions for the Airbus A350-1000 aircraft the airline proposes using on the routes.
The four-year agreement comes after the airline threatened to employ outside pilots to fly the routes unless its flight crew agreed to changes it said were necessary to make the flights viable.
However, the disagreement was overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis, which prompted the airline to put back its order for the new aircraft as it grounded its widebody fleet and stood down 20,000 staff.
“This is an incredibly uncertain time for our members with many stood down from flying on no pay with no end in sight,” said Australian and International Pilots Association Mark Sedgwick.
“With the result of today’s vote, AIPA members have united to preserve the industrial strength that comes from having all long-haul pilots under the same agreement,” he said.
“AIPA has been able to ensure that when we return to flying our expert pilots will be at the helm as part of Qantas’ ultra-long-haul services.”
Qantas chief pilot Dick Tobiano acknowledged that the vote came at a difficult time but said it was important to keep looking ahead.
“The extraordinary circumstances facing aviation has seen Airbus agree to extend the deadline on our decision to purchase the A350s so we can both focus on navigating the coronavirus crisis,’’ he said.
“But when this period has passed, and it will, we will refocus our attention on Project Sunrise and the A350 order.”
The agreement means pilots will receive an annual increase of 3 percent, sets terms and conditions for Airbus A350 flying and provides increased rostering flexibility.
Despite the overwhelming vote, Sedgwick said the threat to give Australian jobs to outsiders had strained the relationship between the airline and its pilots.
He said AIPA’s attention was now on the COVID-19 crisis and the immediate needs of its members, renewing calls for government support for aviation workers.
“The Federal Government recently announced over $A700 million for the aviation industry and airlines yet none of this has flowed through to workers, with Qantas standing down 80 percent or 20,000 workers on annual leave and leave without pay,’’ he said.
“Our pilots’ wings have been clipped and while support for the industry is essential, future government support must target workers directly.
“We must ensure that Qantas group airlines and their highly-skilled workforce stand ready to get back into the air when the immediate crisis has passed to support Australia’s economic recovery.”