Qantas’s move to shift flights to Hobart from Qantas mainline 737s to QantasLink operated 717s, with the attendant decision to cut 35 jobs at Hobart airport, has sparked an outcry, even as the move means increased flight frequencies and dropping Q400 turboprop services to the Tasmanian capital.
From April Qantas will transition its Melbourne and Sydney to Hobart jet services from mainline 737s to QantasLink 717s, which are operated on Qantas’s behalf under a contract arrangement by Cobham Aviation. As a consequence Cobham will be establishing a pilot and flight attendant base in Tasmania, but 35 Qantas mainline ground staff positions will be lost, with ground handling instead to be provided by contract staff.
“This change is about making sure we have the right aircraft on the right routes in support of leisure and business travel opportunities between Tasmania and the mainland,” a Qantas spokespersman said on Tuesday. “This decision forms part of the Qantas Group’s strategy of transforming its business to remain a competitive force in Australian aviation and continue to offer the best services it can to customers.”
Qantas says the affected staff will be offered redundancy packages “and redeployment opportunities where possible”, and that its overall direct indirect employment in Tasmania will increase
But the decision has sparked a heated backlash from politicians and unions, with Hobart independent MP Andrew Wilkie telling The Australian: “It does call into question their status as the national carrier – how on earth can you have the national flag carrier not servicing one of the capital cities? The fact that they are having to take such drastic steps highlights the grave difficulty the airline is in. But at the same time it makes it harder to make the case for federal assistance when you’re not behaving like a national carrier.”
And the federal Greens have labelled the move as politically motivated.
“This announcement by Qantas is the latest in a series of decisions made by management designed to put political pressure on the federal government,” Greens transport spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said in a statement.
“It follows from the announcement last year that Qantas would sack 1,000 employees. Qantas management are treating their workers with contempt by using them as part of political machinations to lobby the federal government into weakening foreign ownership regulations.”
Qantas has acquired five 717s to be operated by QantasLink on flights from Canberra to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and from Sydney and Melbourne to Hobart. Unlike the one-class 717s QantasLink operates in WA and Queensland, these aircraft are being refurbished with a two-class cabin and feature iPad inflight entertainment to every seat.
Cobham and its predecessor National Jet has operated QantasLink (and before that Airlink) jet services for Qantas (and originally Australian Airlines) using first BAe 146s and more recently the 717s since the late 1980s.
Meanwhile, Australian Business Traveller reports that Virgin Australia’s new airport lounges for Hobart and Darwin have been delayed and are not likely to open until 2015. The Hobart lounge was originally due to open in 2013.