Qantas Sunrise threat prompts overseas pilot interest

February 20, 2020
Qantas boss Alan Joyce with CFO Vanessa Hudson. Photo: Steve Creedy

There appears to be no shortage of people prepared to fly the Qantas ultra-long-haul Project Sunrise routes if a deal with the airline’s existing pilots cannot be reached.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday that he had received a letter in the last 24 hours from an Australian China Southern captain who had been laid off and said he could get hundreds of expatriate pilots from China and Asia to operate Sunrise flights.

The captain had volunteered to set up a company to recruit them, he said.

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Qantas International chief executive  Tino La Spina sent a note to pilots last week warning it would engage outside pilots for its ambitious plans to fly from Australia’s east coast to London and New York using Airbus A350s if they did not agree to a deal that delivered productivity gains sought by the airline.

The carrier is facing a March 31 deadline from Airbus for production slots for the A350s and has been told the manufacturer is unable to extend.

Joyce reiterated that the preference was still to cut a deal with the Australian and International Pilots Association that would see existing staff do the job.

He said he believed Project Sunrise was critical to the success of the business and gave Qantas a unique proposition that no other airline in the world could offer.

“We’ve seen with Perth-London and early stages of Brisbane-Chicago that ultra-long-haul flying does work for us, given the product and given the focus that we’ve had,’’ he said.

“And we are very focussed on making sure we can deliver on sunrise.

“What hasn’t changed is that we’ve said the business case has to work.”

The Qantas boss said efficiencies from pilots and the approval by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of a new fatigue risk management system were important parts of the business case.

He said good progress was being made with CASA and the head of the Qantas negotiating team had told pilots last week there had been more progress since the airline announced it would proceed with Sunrise,  and that it had an alternative plan, than in the previous seven months.

He said the “number one, number two and number three choice” was to do a deal with the pilots and that was what management was focussed on.

“But this is too critical for us to walk away from it and we will be doing it,’’ he said, adding that a recommendation would be put to the board in March.

Asked how confident he was that would get a deal with the pilots, Joyce said he was optimistic there would be progress.