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Qantas Threatens to Hire Low-Cost Pilots to Operate Ultra-Long-Haul ‘Project Sunrise’ Flights

Qantas Threatens to Hire Low-Cost Pilots to Operate Ultra-Long-Haul ‘Project Sunrise’ Flights

Australian flag-carrier Qantas has allegedly threatened to hire a new lower-cost group of pilots to operate so-called ‘Project Sunrise’ flights – ultra-long-haul services that would link Australian cities like Sydney and Melbourne with London, Paris and New York. The threat was made in a memo to current pilots as protracted wage negotiations threaten to derail Project Sunrise.

Qantas announced late last year that it had selected the Airbus A350-1000 as its preferred aircraft for Project Sunrise. The proven track record of the A350’s Rolls-Royce powered Trent 1000 engines nudged it ahead of the yet to be launched Boeing 777X which had also been shortlisted as part of an evaluation for the project.

Photo Credit: Qantas / Airbus

Airbus had agreed to extend the deadline for confirming delivery slots from February 2020 by one month so that Qantas could have more time to make a final decision on whether to proceed with Project Sunrise. At the time, the airline said doing a deal with its long-haul pilots was the “last remaining gap” in the Project Sunrise business case.

Qantas will need to make a decision by March for it to lock in aircraft delivery dates of early 2023 – Airbus says it cannot extend this deadline any later than next month.

“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,” explained Tino La Spina, head of international services at Qantas in a leaked memo sighted by Reuters.

Qantas and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) have been locked in talks over a new contract for months but have hit a stalemate with little movement on either side. Qantas says it is willing to offer a 3 per cent pay rise but only if pilots are willing to meet certain productivity goals.

If a union-negotiated deal can’t be reached, La Spina now says Qantas will put an offer directly to pilots to vote on. If they reject that offer, Qantas may go-ahead and form a lower-paid group of pilots that would only operate Airbus A350 ‘Project Sunrise’ flights.

“Our strong preference is to reach an agreement with our pilots,” La Spina urged, explaining that Qantas wanted to use its current A330 pilots who could gain a common type-rating to also operate A350 flights. The pay offer would be approximately 5 per cent higher than Qantas’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner pilots.

“Unfortunately, the approach that Qantas is now showing publicly has been a characteristic of the long-haul discussions and shows how this business would apparently prefer ultimatums to building consensus at this critical juncture,” countered Mark Sedgewick, president of AIPA in a statement.

AIPA has previously raised significant concern over the record-breaking flight times and what impact that could have on pilot fatigue.

Qantas did not say when it might put a final vote to its pilots.