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Project Sunrise Qantas dispute faces crunch pilot vote

written by Adam Thorn | March 3, 2020

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.

An artist’s illustration of Project Sunrise

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.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce at the airline group’s 2019 annual general meeting in Adelaide. (Qantas AGM webcast screenshot)

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.

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Comments (8)

  • Mick D


    Well, based on how Virgin is treating its staff on the front lines (sacking them at short notice with minimum payouts) I myself welcome another player into the Australian Market, in fact, I welcome another player into the Aussie domestice market as well, as we all know the competition is really just lagging in this country!

  • Skeptic


    The very same China Airlines captain who’s lost his medical , didn’t pass the Qantas recruitment process …

  • Jeff Carswell


    Let’s hope Australian pilots come to their senses regardless of union vested interests and retain Australians on the se Flights.

    • Mr Mal


      Let’s also hope operational crew fatigue limits are not endangered or breached in this negotiation. Does CASA have a view on these factors? It can’t all be industrial.

  • Disillusioned


    The Union’s interest is in representing the pilots, who are being asked to accept terms for Project Sunrise inferior to the rest of the long haul fleet (ie. they will need to work more in order to make the same amount of money, even compared to the A330, let along an A380), so they can work shifts of 23hrs. Why would they accept it?

    Qantas is already looking at savings on Sunrise thanks to fuel efficiency, removing all costs associated with landing in an intermediary airport, the fact that they’ll only need 2 planes in the air at any one time, whereas now they have 4, and the savings in training costs by pilots flying A350 and A330. Not to mention the premium price they’ll be charging customers for the privilege. So why do they need to screw the pilots down to earn less for what will be the worst job for them to do?

    Instead of people getting upset at the Union or the pilots (who aren’t asking for a pay rise but just want to maintain their current conditions) they should be upset with Qantas and Alan Joyce for their greed.

  • Steve


    No shortage of Pilots, so why are you building pilot academies?Is there or isn’t there a shortage?
    Qantas seeks to control the narrative on every front. Does anyone really think a random pilot would write directly to Joyce? I can see Alan presenting a multi billion dollar plan to the board based upon an unsolicited letter from a China Southern pilot, really? It’s laughable, if not childish. Where is the investigative journalism in this country?

  • Aries1470


    And yet, he is putting the safety and reputation of the airline on the line lately all over the place, he must be loosing the plot. Just recently with the 737 Max and mentioning about QANTAS’s safety record to purchasing those aircraft. It is the perception of hte public though, and QANTAS runs on image. Now this statement, is Alan trying to run it to the ground?.

  • Geoff


    Well, Alan is certainly losing credibility fast when he gets paid excessively and expects everyone else to work under more restrictive conditions that are both harder and for less reward. That is tantamount to running it into the ground. That will end badly.

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