Qantas moves to allay Project Sunrise fears among pilots

November 02, 2019
Qantas Sunrise Project
Airbus' A350-1000 is a contender in the intense battle for a Qantas order

Qantas has moved to head off pilot concerns about Project Sunrise, arguing the ambitious project will see it recruit up to 400 new pilots and provide significant promotional opportunities to existing staff.

The airline wants to make a decision on the project by year’s end but pushback from some pilots have raised doubts about whether an agreement can be hammered out with the Australian and International Pilots Association in time as part of wider enterprise bargaining (EBA) negotiations.

There is also a schism among the pilots with some arguing the union made too many concessions when it negotiated the agreement to introduce the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

READ: Qantas grounds three Boeing 737NGs with cracks.

There are also worries about how the airline will handle fatigue on the new ultra-long-haul flights connecting Australia’s East Coast to London and New York.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has warned he may drop the Sunrise project if he cannot get what he argues are needed productivity improvements by year’s end.

This has led to complaints the negotiation timeframe is unrealistic.

Qantas notes it faces pressure from aircraft manufacturers holding slots and who have set up dedicated Sunrise teams “they will not sustain indefinitely”.

Joyce also told AirlineRatings recently that the Qantas Sunrise team needed to be freed up to look at domestic fleet renewal in 2020.

READ: Qantas to launch domestic fleet renewal process in 2020.

Despite the pilot reservations, the airline says it is confident there is enough time to negotiate a “heads of agreement” before the end of the year that would see a new EBA put to the vote in February 2020.

In an email circulated to pilots, chief Pilot Dick Tobiano again warns that Sunrise is not a foregone conclusion and “the flying needs to be commercially viable”.

Talks with AIPA are continuing, he says.

“Sunrise feels to me like an incredible opportunity to grow our international business, which will have flow-on benefits for domestic and the rest of the group,’’ he adds.

“Given the size of these opportunities, it’s important we work together and leave no stone unturned in coming up with an agreement that works for all.”

The aircraft competition for Sunrise has pitted Boeing’s 777X against the Airbus A350-1000.

Qantas is asking pilots to accept B787 pay and conditions for either Sunrise aircraft option but says this will be in addition to annual pay increases for all pilots under a yet-to-be agreed new long-haul enterprise agreement (EBA).

It also asks for productivity improvements it says will not impact take-home pay.

The table says pilot pay on the 787 in fiscal 2019, including allowances and super, averaged $A445,744 for line captains, $A302,282 for line first officers and $A153, 507 for second officers.

It says it is about 4 to 5 percent higher than the A330 and about 4 percent lower than the 747.

The productivity improvements include treating the A330/A350 or B787/B777 as single fleets at some bases to take advantage of multi-variant flying.

It also calls for caps on the yearly pay scales of new hire pilots while they’re second officers and pre-allocating training duties in consecutive days to facilitate evidence-based training.

It also wants to reduce how often pilots change aircraft type and have to be retrained.

“These particular improvements are not prescriptive – they are only suggestions,’’ it says.

“We remain open to considering alternatives and have been working with AIPA to that end.

“Any Sunrise package will only apply if Sunrise goes ahead.”

The messages points to advantages such as promotions and increased training stemming from the introduction of the B787, including 279 new pilots attributed to the jet’s arrival.

It estimates,  for example, that the 787 was responsible for 145 of 275 promotions from first officer to captain.

On the fatigue issues, the airline has a long-stranding fatigue risk management system it uses to manage the issue that it is modifying to take into account the longer sectors.

“Qantas has invested heavily in processes and expertise to meaningfully address pilot fatigue, and CASA’s approval of the FRMS trial is recognition of this,’’ it says “The FRMS is highly reliant on fatigue data and pilot reporting, and continued engagement with our pilots on fatigue is fundamental to the success of Sunrise.

“Sunrise flying will build on our long history of operating sectors in line with ever-increasing aircraft capability.

“A thorough safety case based on individual city pairs is currently being developed and will require CASA approval prior to any changes being made to our FRMS rulesets.”

The e-mail also address pilot claims Sunrise is already dead and they are being set up as the cause, describing it as “very much alive”.

“Sunrise represents a strategically important opportunity to grow our international business and we are continuing to invest significant time and resources into the project, including in the form of the Sunrise research flights,’’ it says.

“The attention received by these flights clearly demonstrates that there is significant interest in these ultra-long-haul routes, and we want to make them a reality but only if the business case stacks up.”

AIPA has been contacted for comment.