Pilot groups have criticised the federal government’s labour agreement with Qantas that will allow the airline to bring in overseas pilots and instructors to support its training needs.
Qantas has secured approval to recruit up to 76 overseas pilots and instructors for its regional wing QantasLink to help with pilot training, with those employed able to stay in Australia for up to four years.
Under existing skilled worker visa rules, overseas aircraft maintenance engineers and pilots were only eligible to work in Australia for up to two years.
The airline said the two-year contracts had proven uncompetitive in what it described as a global market for these sought-after skills.
Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) president Captain Murray Butt said he rejected the assertion there were not enough local candidates capable of meeting Qantas’s needs.
“Qantas should not have been granted a special deal to hire foreign pilots before properly testing the labour market,” Captain Butt said in a statement on Wednesday.
“If there is a real pilot shortage of Australian applicants, and AIPA has serious doubts, it has come about because the aviation employers have sat on their hands and done nothing to address the impending supply side problem.
“Collectively, they have made aviation a relatively unattractive career.”
Qantas said the move to bring in overseas pilots and instructors was to support QantasLink’s efforts to get its recruits through their training program and begin flying.
It said eligible senior pilots and instructors would have to reach the same capability standards and pass the same simulator assessments as existing pilots. They would also be employed on the same terms and conditions as its existing pilots and simulator instructors.
“Our focus has always been to recruit Australian-based pilots and that hasn’t changed,” a Qantas spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This agreement allows us to temporarily bring in a limited number of simulator instructors and experienced pilots from overseas to support one of the biggest training programs we have done in our history.”
AIPA is the union that represents Qantas pilots.
Another pilots union, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP), has also opposed the Qantas labour agreement.
“There is not a pilot shortage in Australia, rather a bottleneck in the pilot training pipeline,” AFAP president Captain David Booth said in a statement.
“This decision is a slap in the face to hundreds of qualified young Australian pilots who are ready, willing and able to take up pilot positions in the Qantas Group.
“It is very disappointing that the government has seen fit to reward Qantas for their poor planning with this band-aid solution.”
The AFAP has called for “round-table meetings with all the stakeholders to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the current problems being experienced by general aviation and regional airlines”.
An expert industry panel review of the aviation training sector in this country has found Australia was experiencing a severe shortage of aviation personnel, with the situation getting worse.
“The current shortage of qualified pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers is a global problem and a major issue for Australia’s aviation system. Urgent action is required if the country is to avoid major disruptions,” the report published on July 27 stated.
The report was written by a panel of experts chaired by The Australian Aviation Associations Forum and comprising representatives from Aircraft Structural Contractors, Aviation Australia, Basair Aviation College, QantasLink, the Regional Aviation Association of Australia, the Regional Express Flight Training Academy and Virgin Australia.