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.”