Qantas pilots say the selection of the Airbus A350-1000 for Project Sunrise will make it easier to concentrate on specific areas of concern about the ultra-long-haul flights but they have yet to reach common ground with the company.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce announced the A350-1000 was the winner to a hard-fought contest with Boeing’s 777X and has nominated a new enterprise agreement with pilots as the last hurdle to launching the service in the first half of 2023.
The A350 is already in service on long-haul flights and its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine has so far proved reliable, unlike its counterpart on the Boeing 787.
Joyce said the deal with Airbus gave Qantas the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.
The European manufacturer will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum take-off weight to allow it to serve the non-stop routes between Australia’s East Coast and London and New York.
Qantas has yet to place a firm order for up to 12 of the next-generation jets but Airbus has agreed to extend the deadline for booking production slots from February 2020 to March 2020.
Qantas management hopes this will give it time to reach an agreement with pilots.
The plane selection means the parties can now focus on one aircraft type rather than two.
Although the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has indicated there no regulatory obstacles to the Sunrise flights, pilots say they remain concerned about fatigue and safety issues.
CASA would need to approve changes that would extend the current flight duty time limitations of 18.5 hours by three to four hours.
Qantas has been gathering information from its Perth-London nonstop to support its case and will add data garnered from its recent Boeing 787 non-stop flights to Sydney from London and New York.
Qantas wants the pilots to agree to that and is seeking a number of other productivity and efficiency gains, including the ability to use the same flight crew across its A350 and A330 aircraft.
Some pilots believe they gave away too much in terms of concessions when an agreement was negotiated for the Boeing 787.
Australian and International Pilots Association president Mark Sedgwick acknowledged that the selection of the A350 would “allow a complex negotiation to focus on specific areas of concern for pilots”.
But he indicated a deal was far from struck.
“Pilots gave 30 percent productivity improvements for the acquisition of 787-9 aircraft in 2015,’’ he said.
“We have always looked to outcomes that can benefit both pilots and Qantas.
“So far in this negotiation, we have not yet struck that balance of outcomes, so we continue to discuss matters with Qantas.”
The pilots are also critical of CASA’s position and have reportedly hired the law firm founded by former politician Nick Xenophon to help them deal with the regulator.
“The lack of any public and transparent position from the regulatory body CASA on Sunrise flying makes an already complex negotiation more difficult particularly when it comes to fatigue and safety concerns,’’ said AIPA vice president Brad Hodson.
Joyce noted the airline had done a lot of work on the economics of the project and the last gap it had to close was the efficiency gains with the pilots.
“We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs,’’ he said.
“Airbus has given us an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting our planned start date, which means we can spend more time on hopefully reaching a deal with our pilots.”