Qantas and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) have reached an agreement that will allow its members to fly the new ‘Project Sunrise’ routes.
However, the airline appears to have confirmed earlier reports that its order for the 12 Airbus A350-1000s, necessary to travel non-stop from London and New York to Sydney, has been delayed until after the coronavirus situation abates.
The Sydney Morning Herald obtained an email from AIPA president Mark Sedgwick possibly hinting that the COVID-19 crisis, which has stood down two-thirds of Qantas staff, may have played a part.
Sedgwick said, “This is an incredibly uncertain time for our members, with many stood down from flying on no pay, with no end in sight. When we return to flying, our expert pilots will be at the helm as part of Qantas’ ultra long-haul services.”
The vote brings to an end a bitter wrangle between the two camps, with the airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, threatening to bring in Chinese pilots to fly the planes if no deal could be struck.
Qantas chief pilot Captain Richard Tobiano announced the news in a memo to staff, which read, “Reaching an agreement… means that we have now met the flight operations component of the Project Sunrise business case.
“The extraordinary circumstances facing aviation has seen Airbus agree to extend the deadline on our decision to purchase the A350s so we can focus on navigating the coronavirus crisis.”
Before the COVID-19 crisis, Qantas had a March deadline to place a multibillion-dollar order with Airbus for a new fleet of up to 12 A350-1000 jets to operate what would be the longest commercial flights in the world.
The carrier said it needed pilots to agree to a new pay deal, which included “productivity benefits” to make the Project Sunrise business case stack up before it could make the order.
On 20 February, Australian Aviation reported that Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce upped the stakes in his negotiation with staff, telling reporters there was “no shortage of pilots” ready to take on the assignment in an off-the-cuff remark.
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.”
Previously, in a 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.”
Last week, the Qantas Group secured a $1.05 billion loan to help the business during the current pandemic, which is secured against part of its fleet of unencumbered aircraft.
The loan has a tenure of up to 10 years at an interest rate of 2.75 per cent.
This funding increases Qantas’ available cash balance to $2.95 billion with an additional $1 billion undrawn facility remaining available.
The last Qantas international flights are due to stop flying in the coming days, and two-thirds of staff have been stood down.