A pilot who has worked for Qantas for 32 years has won an injunction to stop the airline from terminating his employment because he has turned 65.
The Federal Court said while Captain Paul Summers doesn’t have a strong argument, he must remain stood down until the Human Rights Commission can consider the case.
In aviation, many countries, including Australia, ban pilots over the age of 65 from flying long-haul international routes.
The case is complicated because, as an A330 captain, Captain Summers was tasked with flying both short and long-haul routes and also because COVID halted international, but not domestic, flights.
Qantas has argued keeping him on would involve a major overhaul of its current rostering system.
Captain Summers was among 55 pilots offered a special early retirement package last year because he was turning 65 before 1 July 2022. The deal was worth three-times more than a traditional voluntary redundancy deal.
However, Captain Summers declined and insisted he wasn’t affected by the “Rule of 65” because the A330 he captained could also fly between Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Cairns. Qantas is currently flying to all of these destinations except Darwin.
In the year prior to Qantas halting intentional operations, he operated 33 domestic flights.
Qantas has argued it would still be impractical to retain his services because it would have to significantly change its rostering system: currently pilots go on standby every 12 to 16 months to fly internationally.
Judge Anna Katzmann ruled Captain Summers must remain stood down until the case could be heard by the Human Rights Commission.
“Taking all relevant matters into account and weighing them in the balance, I have concluded that an interim injunction should be granted to preserve the status quo until the complaint to the Commission is withdrawn by Captain Summers or terminated by the President,” ruled Justice Katzmann.
“While I am satisfied that Captain Summers has a prima facie case, I am unable to conclude that it is a strong one. Further, if he succeeds in his claim, there is every likelihood that he would be reimbursed for his lost earnings and, contrary to his submission, his seniority would be restored if there were an order for his reinstatement.
“Moreover, I am not satisfied that he would be unable to service his mortgage if the termination of his employment were to take effect. No information was presented to the Court concerning his savings or assets or, for that matter, his liabilities. Nevertheless, I have concluded that the balance of convenience is in Captain Summers’ favour.”
The full case will be heard in the coming weeks.