Qantas pilots are set to finally vote on a new agreement to fly the airline’s ambitious Project Sunrise flights from London to Sydney.
The Australian and International Pilots Association president Mark Sedgwick told members on Friday that negotiations had come to a close and they would have to make their choice between 20 and 30 March.
The two parties 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 30 March date is significant because the order for the Airbus A350-1000, Qantas’ plane to undertake the 9,600-nautical mile journey, is apparently contingent on reaching a deal with pilots by the end of the month.
Sedgwick said, “The current situation is unprecedented and it remains obviously upsetting and difficult for members.
“The company’s ultra-aggressive approach is not welcome to a group of loyal and key employees in the airline. Unfortunately, Qantas [is] forging ahead with this program of change.”
The vote may mark the end of a bitter dispute, which has seen Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce take a strong approach to negotiations.
Australian Aviation earlier reported that Joyce told 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 came after a memo leaked to Reuters 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.
In the email, 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.”
Earlier this week, subsidiary Jetstar won a deal with staff who were striking over pay and minimum rota hours.
The Transport Workers Union has accused Jetstar of “disgraceful blackmail tactics” after the airline bypassed the union to reach a deal with striking ground staff and baggage handlers.