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Long-serving Qantas captain wins age discrimination injunction

written by Adam Thorn | April 22, 2021
Qantas A330-202 departs from Brisbane after sunset as QF597 to Perth (Michael Marston)
Qantas A330-202 departs from Brisbane after sunset as QF597 to Perth (Michael Marston)

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.

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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.

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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that an interim injunction should be granted to preserve the status quo until the complaint to the Commission is withdrawn by Captain Summers or terminated by the President,” ruled Justice Katzmann.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.

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12 Comments

  • raymond rhodes

    says:

    so captain summers had worked for Qantas for 32 years & obviously other employers before that for around 15? years & still does not own a home ?
    if he hasn’t done it by now he never will ,

    • Corrigin

      says:

      @raymond rhodes, the issue is NOT whether Captain Summers owns a house or not.

  • Doug Bright

    says:

    Qantas have undermined their own case at the outset by indicating their decision to stand Summers down or terminate his employment is a matter of their scheduling convenience and not one that normally relates to issues of age which by extension are often related to safety. I think it’s disgusting. Further, it would be hypocritical and devious now for them to change tack in mid-stream and use the “safety” angle to justify their actions and attitudes.

    Q are going off with a lot of people in a big way, and this sure doesn’t help their standing.

  • Paul

    says:

    Australia does not ban pilots from flying long-haul over 65 years of age. I don’t believe it says that in. Any of the regulations. It’s an airline decision.

  • Terry

    says:

    Last I heard there was a pilot shortage and Qantas wanted to hire workers. Yet it won’t either pay a long serving Captain the courtesy of keeping them on flying the same equipment or potentially he could keep flying the 737 domestically. I wonder if that was ever on the table.
    Qantas obviously has no interest in investing or paying dues. All they have ever cared about is the bottom line.

  • Phil

    says:

    It’d be nice to see Qantas invest in its employees and their dignity as it it does it’s its bottom line.

  • Vladimir

    says:

    Ban to fly long-haul after 65 should be abolished. It is anachronism now. I am sure Captain Summers is fit as 20 year old bloke – he has Class 1 medical passed every 6 months. He also quite likely 10K+ pilot – it is stupid to ban someone with such experience to fly. And even if he is to die up in the air – long hauls, unlike domestic flighs, have relief crew on board – meaning that in worst case scenario there would be another pilot to overtake his duties and safety of the flight would not be jeopardized.

  • Mark D

    says:

    65 you could argue that’s a pretty good bite of the cherry

  • Silly Man in my humble opinion, I’m sure he would prefer to carry on flying, but he has had a good and safe aviation career, and at 65 five, he must know that that he will soon start experiencing the feelings that age brings along.
    Bite the ‘sweet’ biscuit’ on offer now, and live a comfortable retirement Sir, I’m sur your wife / partner would be happy with that decision.

  • Peter

    says:

    The Age 65 rule is not applicable in any case, there is no such rule in the Australian regs so as an Australian licensed pilot flying Australian registered aircraft you can fly globally for as long as you can hold a medical.

    • Kingsley

      says:

      You are correct that there is no Age 65 rule in Australia (due to antidiscrimation laws) which will allow him to operate within Australian airspace as long as he can hold a medical. However, this does not apply if you are operating within the airspace of another country which has implemented the Age 65 Rule (such as US Airspace). With the A330 predominantly operating to Asia Pacific destinations, and the location of Guam (US Airspace), this will pose an issue for those who are over the age of 65.

  • Max

    says:

    So many of the people above who have penned opinions have a flawed knowledge of how the system works, including the author.
    There is no RULE 65. There is an ICAO Standard. It is only applicable to international flying. Australia has filed a Difference to that standard and that is why pilots over 65 fly between Australia and New Zealand. The last time I looked, New Zealand is not a state of Australia and is an international destination.

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