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Alan Joyce: No shortage of pilots for London to Sydney route

written by Adam Thorn | February 20, 2020

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce upped the stakes in his negotiation with staff over the upcoming London to Sydney route, telling reporters there was “no shortage of pilots” ready to take on the assignment.

Talking as he announced cuts to services to Asia, he said, “I’ve had the letter from a captain from China Southern who says he’s been laid off in recent issues there, and he can get hundreds of captains from China and Asia to operate Project Sunrise if we want to.”

The direct response comes after a memo leaked to Reuters last week said the airline wouldn’t shy away from forming a lower-cost pilot group if a deal could not be reached for the new ultra-long-haul route.

Qantas and the Australian and International Pilots Association have been locked in talks for months over a deal to operate Project Sunrise, the name of Qantas’ ambitious plan to fly non-stop from the east coast of Australia to London and New York from 2023.


The airline has selected the Airbus SE A350-1000 as its plane to undertake the 17,000 kilometre journey – but the order is contingent on reaching a deal with pilots by March.

In the memo obtained by Reuters, Qantas International head Tino La Spina was reported as saying the airline would form a new lower-cost pilot group if needs be.

He said, “Airbus extended the delivery slots one last time once they knew they were the preferred supplier, but they are not willing to continue their exposure beyond that point.”

The memo added that the offer for A330 pilots who would also fly the A350 is 5 per cent more than for its Boeing 787 fleet.

In a statement after the release of the leaked email, La Spina said, “Our strong preference is to reach an agreement with our pilots.”

The escalation of the dispute came on a busy day for Qantas, which announced earlier that it would reduce overall capacity to Asia by 15 per cent until at least the end of May, cut international capacity by 16 per cent, and cut Jetstar seats to the region by a further 14 per cent.

Flights between Sydney and Shanghai will remain suspended, Joyce said, while the popular route between Hong Kong and Sydney will be halved from 14 trips a week to just seven.

Meanwhile, flights from Melbourne and Brisbane will be axed, as will Jetstar flights to Japan and Thailand.

Jetstar flights between Australia and New Zealand will also be reduced by around 5 per cent, and the group’s domestic capacity will go down by 2.3 per cent in the second half of the year.

Joyce said, “Coronavirus resulted in the suspension of flights to mainland China, and we’re now seeing some secondary impacts and weaker demand on Hong Kong, Singapore and to a lesser extent Japan.

“What’s important is that we have flexibility in how we respond to coronavirus and how we maintain our strategic position more broadly.”

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Comments (24)

  • Red Cee


    In regard to the pilots, Qantas needs to be careful they don’t upset the pilots union overly, as that could lead to new problems and industrial action further down the track. Having said that, unions shouldn’t be able to hold companies to ransom. Especially over something as important as direct SYD to LHR, JFK services, which is what the public prefer.

    • zac


      Yeh fair enough but with wage growth lower than the increase in the cost of living for the last 5 years, I think the last thing we need to do is beat up on unions taking strike action. No one likes strike action but since we have made it so hard to take strike action that it barely occurs now, no one is getting a wage increase that keeps up with inflation. I dont want my flight cancelled but im thankful for all the teachers and nurses taking strike action in recent years with out that upward pressure on wages, i would hate to think how much worse off we would be. I would support the pilots taking any action they can. At the end of the day id rather it in their pocket being spent in the local economy than in the profit margins of a company that has paid tax once in eleven years.

  • Rod Pickin


    I find it disturbing that a company like QF that has continuously displayed excellence within it’s airline operations arena appears to be, as history records, unable to achieve the same result within it’s I.R/H.R. department. Currently we have a dispute over award conditions with their ground staff and now a potentially ugly scene with their Tech Crew when the aircraft and planned operational service/s are at best 12 months away yet we now have Mr. J indicating he will now use foreign pilots unless he gets his way. Seriously! – is this the correct behaviour that the top executive should exercise?, I think not. In addition, I would be surprised if our air service governing bodies would allow a less than double crew on those planned ULH routes, for me, regional/domestic would hold more professional benefits. Regarding the dispute with the ground staff may I suggest to them that outsourcing their tasks to one of the many handling companies available holds large financial advantages to QF so don’t let your union put you in a no win situation. If you loose, they still retain their positions and salaries.

    • James


      Well said Rod. Spot on

  • Steve


    Pilot crewing costs are a relatively small percentage of running an airline, you have to wonder how good the business case for these routes is if it hinges on how much you pay your pilots and how long they work for. No one in the media wants to ask the hard questions, Chairman’s lounge memberships at stake here!

  • james



    I disagree with your statement

    “Pilot crewing costs are a relatively small percentage of running an airline”

    $400k for a pilot who actual works very few hours on average per week. Would love to know what the average is, but have been told many work as little as 1000 hours a year. If this is true, that 20 hours a week. Not a bad gig.

    Also as this story states, there’s now a massive glut of pilots, many of whom are Australians who until recently were working for Chinese & other Asian airlines, now getting zero pay, who would like to come home. Bit like when Compass Mark 1 set up, theyt were flooded with applications, form silly pilots who got on wrong side of pilots dispute & were blacklisted from Qantas/Ansett. Oh what short memories the pilots union has.

    • Steve


      Flight crew costs, (not total labour costs) account for between App. 6-6.5% of costs, fuel costs account for App. 10-12% of costs. Total operating costs 44% total labour, fuel, depreciation, direct maintenance. Servicing maintenance 29%. Sales/reservations expenses14%. Overhead expenses advertising/ administration 13%( ICAO ) My point is, anyone with a real business brain can see that the metrics don’t stack up. If you’re going to base a business case on such a small percentage of costs Your agenda is clearly somewhere else. How are things in the campus?

    • Trogdor


      CEO of Singapore Airlines earns a fraction of what Alan Joyce does. Maybe we could ask him to come over and run Qantas while we’re at it?

  • Bernard Beston


    Very difficult to argue that Pilot demands are excessive when the CEO is taking home approx $500,000 a week! Australian flying public well remember the last big Pilots strike when overseas Pilots were brought in. On a Brisbane to Sydney flight at the time I had to send a message to the Cockpit that the Aircraft was flying towards Townsville. The wrong way!
    And those crew spoke French not Chinese!

  • Dave


    James, I disagree with your statement
    I’m not a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant etc so I would never comment on what those individuals do with the time they spend at work. 1000 hours is stick time, actually sitting in the cockpit. There is another larger percentage of time preparing for the flight, completing courses and regular simulator and ground courses throughout that year you refer to as “ little as a 1000hrs a year”. Furthermore a pilot is entitled to take some leave to spend some time with his/her family that have to endure a considerable amount of time away from home taking the likes of you on your flight to wherever, safely, efficiently and hopefully providing what you expect from today’s airlines.
    So, James, if you don’t know a thing about a particular subject or vocation I suggest you put your little keyboard away and remember most pilots spent years and years getting to the final stage of their career where they do finally get remunerated well for the experience training and dedication to taking people to their destinations safely.

  • Tony Ryan


    Comments such as that made by James display a total lack of understanding of how the aviation industry works and how it is governed. James probably goes to and from work each day, maybe having to commute for an hour or so each way. He sleeps in his own bed each night and enjoys family life with little time apart from those whom form his family. He likely enjoys a game of golf each weekend and has no concept of circadian rhythm.

    A long-haul pilot, whet whet he or she be a junior member of the crew or a Captain has gone through a comprehensive training system, probably flown with domestic airlines or the military and spent many hours training. The pilot does not just arrive at the airport and go sit in the aircraft five minutes before scheduled pushback time. He or she has to plan for the flight, ensure fuel required is properly calculated, examine the weather forecasts etc etc. The flight will cross many time zones and the effect this has on ones body is significant and so proper rest during and between flights is essential. Added to all this is the responsibility for the safety of the aircraft and all on board, a shared responsibility but ultimately the buck stops with the Captain. Qantas has an enviable safety record, in no small part due to the competency of the flight crews as well as the aircraft engineers. It borders on the obscene that CEO’s such as Mr Joyce are in receipt of such high salaries but expect those without whom the company cannot operate are forced into industrial action to be paid what they deserve.

  • Jeff Atkinson


    Alan Joyce will alienate the the travelling public with comments like this. Australians believe that when they get on the aircraft and sit down .It’s being operated by a well qualified Australian pilot ,Be it Female or male. Sure there are good Asian pilot’s .But if i were to have a choice on some sector’s . I might have to go that long distance with AIR NEWZEALAND or Cathay instead.

  • Meepa Chandry


    If Joyce was smart, he’d set up that carrier, and crush Tigerair and VA into a nothing airline! Why not take advantage of hiring experienced Tigerair Airbus pilots and VA 330 Captains?
    Virgin clearly is in financial trouble , downsizing Tigerair and swapping to crappy 737s., taking TTs profitable routes and VA insisting on grounded MAX aircraft deliveries! No plan B. says it all really…. time to strike Qantas!

    • Scott


      Meepa, VA employs over 10,000 Australians with kids, mortgages and bills. Most of whom have no interest in working for a B-scale QF offshoot.
      Do enjoy your ticket prices as they are or would you rather pay double? That’s what you’ll get if VA/TT disappear.
      You seem clever enough, please think about how badly you want just one airline in this country.

      • Meepa


        Hello Scott,

        Yes I agree, not saying that Qantas will be ethical in pricing, we’ve seen this before, but all airlines act similar (TT/VA included, however, I do see VA mistreating their business instead of capitalising on what they had in the first place;
        Tiger for example had 17 Airbus’s and was in perfect place to compete with Jetstar, now has only 7! and 5 737’s.

        Why downsize the aircraft fleet and take away profitable routes when JB and Sharp siphoned money out of the airlines and completely wrecked the fleet expansion!

        Remember JB’s promise to ACCC to expand to 35 Airbus over 3 years?

        Instead, they choose to shrink Tigerair and cost the company millions in changing over to an old 737 fleet, incurring HUGE costs along the way; As far as I can see, still are blowing millions on the 737 dream (Max included).
        So following TT/VA loosely (I am sure their is more details here about VA/TT wasting money);

        I dont wish for VA to go away, but Qantas need to take advantage of the lull in TT/VA because VA/TT themselves are wasting money like no tomorrow and giving their employee’s (and families) a lot of uncertainty in the process, not to mention the 750 people VA are currently sacking in their phase 1 “restructure”; I am sure, pilots or other front line staff will be next sadly the way they are going.

        Qantas setting up another company will in turn will create opportunities for those that want a company that actually values them rather than put huge amounts of heart into TT/VA only for it to be brushed aside by KPI chasing management.

    • John


      Are you daft?

  • Geoff


    Well James, you have been told! Dave and Tony have corrected you and your very poor understanding of how the industry works.

    My advice is, be very careful not to spout about something you know very little about.

    • james


      $400k in a recession is too much for ANYONE. Economy is going down the toilet fast & there will be a million unemployed pilots soon.

      Anyone who can afford to fly wants cheap economy fare & wants to upgrade. Many who fly regularly, won’t fly in 2020 at all. Wake up !!!

  • Peter B


    What’s important is, Mr Joyce works at maximizing his next multi million dollar bonus.?

  • Bil.l Oreally


    When Joyce got his butt off the first trial Sunrise flight, he said it was a success and that it would all go ahead. ALL before any assessments had been made or the results examined for their implications and possible outcomes. He had predetermined the outcome, had Mr $24, ooo,ooo man, and now suggests bringing in scabs. Joyce has the people skills of a knat, and the bumbling duplicity of someone who cares about no one but himself. I have never heard a single QF person say anything positive about him. Now, we can disagree with some people some of the time, but with his continual argy bargy, conflict driven way of dealing with all Qf staff, you have to wonder what is behind all this one way traffic, undimensional way of acting. $24 million might give him great comfort, but Qantas crew and ground staff are professionals in every way. Stop trying to railroad them when avarice prevails.

  • Trogdor


    I suspect there’s probably a glut of CEOs on the world market too. Qantas could probably hire one at 20% of the ridiculous rate that Alan Joyce enjoys and have someone at least as competent.

  • Ian


    just got an email from a travel agent.

    SYD/LAX nonstop early January 2021, back nonstop before school starts $999 return for adults & $799 for kids.

    Corona/Recession is kicking in big time.

  • Geoff


    I see real leadership with some Airline CEO’s. Take Greg Foran at Air NZ for example. A 15% pay cut to offset some of the reduced earnings forecast. Well done Greg! Ralph Norris, Bob Fyfe and Chris Luxon all led the airline effectively through the various challenges that faced the industry.

    QF on the other hand: Threatening pilots and other staff (most important component of any business) and Alan is still excessively paid! Stay on Alan but at no pay for two years and you might garner some respect.

  • Gary


    Here I am in NYC have been here for two days, today I pilot a 200 mil aircraft non stop JFK/SYD with 200 souls on board. Pick up time is 4pm, after waking at6.30, it’s 9 am now I take a walk after breakfast get back to the room at 12noon close the curtains, lay on the bed but can’t sleep, 3pm crew call on transport at 4pm. Hell traffic mess arrive at ops at 5.30. After a few delays in the air at 7.45pm touch down SYD 2pm NYC time sign off At 3pm. That’s quite a day with the responsibilities of having a machine and 200 souls to care for. Crew rest is just that Rest not Sleep. Get real Alan, there’s certainly a lot of foreign CEO talent out there that could save QF 23mil PA.

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