Even though it is likely that Qantas will return to the air following the Fair Work Australia hearing on the afternoon of October 30, there are still a number of passengers who will need to be recovered, and no doubt some interesting options to get people moving again.
Virgin Australia has naturally been proactive on this front, already announcing that it is examining options with Delta, Etihad and Air New Zealand to add and redeploy capacity. This is likely to see its Pacific Blue aircraft redeployed to Australia domestic services while Air New Zealand accommodates the trans-Tasman services with its A320 fleet. In addition, it is reported that Etihad will start flying Sydney-Bangkok services and take over V Australia’s Sydney-Abu Dhabi services temporarily to allow V to add more trans-Pacific services.
Virgin has also noted that it is looking at options for Singapore Airlines to operate its aircraft domestically. In this case, expect SIA A330s or 777-200s to take on some of the longer domestic flying (eg SYD-PER, CNS-MEL) to free up 737 capacity which would be redeployed on the SYD-MEL-BNE triangle to add frequency.
Virgin hasn’t yet said what it expects to do with Delta, but it is likely that Delta will add more services across the Pacific, and possibly up-gauge some to be operated by 747-400s. There are also unconfirmed reports that Delta is preparing to send a number of Boeing 737s and crew to Australia should it be required.
Should the grounding go on for a longer period, Virgin could also bring in capacity from Europe, particularly as it has just switched into the Northern Winter schedule where most airlines have spare capacity. That could see the likes of Air Berlin, Thomas Cook and possibly even Ryanair aircraft sent to Australia, but only if the situation does not resolve itself quickly.
Interestingly, Virgin hasn’t mentioned its domestic alliance partner Skywest in all of this yet. Although a large number of fleet hours are tied up in mining charter, the airline could play a role in flying its A320 on some intrastate WA services or from Perth to Adelaide and Darwin. There is no doubt that a Fokker 100 or two could be freed up by juggling the schedule too, and these could supplement the existing intrastate services.
Further down the chain, expect that Strategic Airlines may get a call up or two for some of its spare A320 and A330 capacity, possibly as charters. Similarly, I would expect that Alliance Airlines would be putting any spare aircraft into various charter services, while its sole Perth-Karratha RPT service is no doubt booking up fast.
Tiger Airways is also expected to do pretty well out of the current mess at Qantas and has the aircraft available to ramp up its schedule pretty quickly. However, the restrictions placed on it by CASA mean that it is unlikely to be able to add more services.
Would the RAAF be involved as it was during the 1989 pilots dispute? At this stage I think this would be a last resort, even with the RAAF recently taking delivery of its first KC-30A MRTTs. If anything, the BBJs and CL-604s of 34 SQN will be kept busy bringing politicians and public servants back to Canberra following CHOGM in Perth.
The other operators who will be kept busy will be the business jet operators such as Hawker Pacific, Execujet and AvWest. Even if the Qantas aircraft get back into the air before the Monday lockout, there will be a number of important individuals who would have already booked these aircraft just to be sure that nothing affects their plans.
The scale of all these contingencies will only be known once the FWA hearing is finished, at which point we should know if the grounding and lockout will go ahead or if Qantas and the unions will head back to the negotiating table and all bets are off until the end of that negotiating period. But for those with an interest in airline operations, this makes for a very interesting time.
What aircraft do you think we will see in Australian skies over the next few days? Leave your comments below.