Pilots at Australian flag-carrier Qantas have finally agreed to a controversial pay deal that will allow the airline to push ahead with the first-ever direct flights between Sydney and London. Qantas had been hoping to greenlight its so-called ‘Project Sunrise’ project by the end of March but even with the pilot deal a final decision won’t now be made until later this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In December, Qantas announced that it had selected the Airbus manufactured A350-1000 as the preferred aircraft to undertake the ultra-long-haul flights that will also connect Sydney and Melbourne directly with Paris and New York. Qantas hopes to take delivery of 12 of the planes but had negotiated with Airbus to push back an official order until the end of March.
“The extraordinary circumstances facing aviation has seen Airbus agree to extend the deadline on our decision to purchase the A350s so we can both focus on navigating the coronavirus crisis,” explained Qantas Chief Pilot Dick Tobiano in a statement reported by Reuters.
“But when this period has passed, and it will, we will refocus our attention on Project Sunrise and the A350 order,” he continued.
But until now, a major sticking point in greenlighting the project was a pay deal for long-haul pilots involving productivity increases to make the flights financially viable. The Australian and International Pilots Associations (AIPA) had refused to back the deal saying the difficult negotiations had “damaged the airline and the relationship with its pilot workforce.”
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce threatened to set up a separate group of pilots on different terms and conditions, saying that foreign pilots at China Southern had approached Qantas with an offer to operate the flights. China Southern had already laid off foreign pilots because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We are faced with choosing between paths that we really do not like,” said AIPA’s Captain Brad Hodson earlier this month. AIPA president Mark Sedgwick, however, confirmed today that 85 per cent of pilots had now backed the deal.
Under the terms of the deal pilots will earn a 3 per cent pay rise annually and extra overtime for the flights. If Qantas is able to stick to its original timeline, the first Project Sunrise flights will takeoff in 2023.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.