Qantas Group’s pilot union, the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), has elected A330 check and training captain Anthony Lucas as its new president.
Lucas is the third pilot to take the top job at the union in just 14 months, after A380 captain Murray Butt was reinstated to the president position in January 2021.
Butt had previously led the AIPA from 2016 to 2018 and replaced ousted Boeing 737 pilot Mark Sedgwick.
Incoming president Lucas has spent nearly three decades with Qantas, beginning his tenure in 1995 as a second officer on the Boeing 747-400.
By 2008, Lucas had made his way up to captain aboard the Boeing 767, and after a brief run as first officer on the A380 in 2015, became a captain on the A330 in 2016.
Captain Lucas told The Australian that he was honoured to be appointed as AIPA president, particularly following a turbulent two years in aviation.
“When you look around the economy, we’ve probably been among the worst impacted work group of anyone in this pandemic, along with our aviation colleagues,” he said.
“COVID has hit everyone in some way. A380 pilots had no income from Qantas for the bulk of the last two years, and the ones who were flying internationally spent months isolated from their families.”
Meanwhile, many domestic pilots were similarly stood down for long periods of time, or struggled to navigate ever-changing border restrictions, alongside testing and quarantine requirements, Lucas said.
“It wasn’t a pleasant time for any of us but I’m proud of the resilience the pilot cohort demonstrated in many ways. We looked after each other.”
With the worst of the pandemic already in the rearview mirror, Lucas’ tenure as AIPA president will likely be defined by EBA negotiations surrounding Qantas’ domestic fleet replacement, dubbed “Project Winton”.
Qantas announced in December that it is set to replace its ageing Boeing narrowbodies with Airbus’ A320neo and A220 families of aircraft.
The airline is gearing up to place an order for 20 A321XLR and 20 A220s, with options for a further 94 jets over 10 years, as its 737-800s and 717s are phased out.
Lucas said this decision, which marks a major move for Qantas from its current Boeing-heavy fleet to now focus on Airbus, will have implications for Qantas’ domestic pilots, who would largely not hold current type ratings on A320 family aircraft.
Like in the case of Project Sunrise, which will see Qantas utilise the Airbus A350-1000 on ultra-long-haul routes connecting Australia’s east coast to key destinations such as London, Paris and New York, the airline has suggested it will await the results of enterprise agreement negotiations with staff prior to making its firm order for aircraft.
Lucas noted that Project Winton could also present an opportunity to bring National Jet Systems’ Boeing 717 pilots under the Qantas short-haul agreement.
“We would like to represent them too,” he said.
Captain Butt was voted out of the top job at AIPA in December, with rumours suggesting members had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the over-representation of A380 pilots on the executive level of the union.
It comes after the AIPA lost its right to exclusively represent Qantas pilots, following a challenge by rival union the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP), in June.
The Fair Work Commission’s deputy president Tony Saunders said that while AIPA had “performed well” in negotiating terms with Qantas, it didn’t mean it was necessarily the better organisation. It followed an appeal by AIPA to an earlier ruling.
“The collective power of the pilot cohort will remain strong, and the voices of those pilots will remain authoritative and effective … even though union density will be spread between the AIPA, the AFAP and to a minor extent the Transport Workers Union,” Saunders said.
AIPA said at the time the decision would have a “significant impact” on the rights of more than 2,000 staff.