Qantas Threatens To Hire Low Cost Pilots

Filed Under: Qantas

Qantas is ready to move forward with “Project Sunrise,” and the airline doesn’t seem to care whether their pilots are onboard with it or not.

Qantas’ “Project Sunrise” A350 flights

For years Qantas has been talking about how they’d like to be able to fly nonstop from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York. They call this goal “Project Sunrise,” and these would be the world’s longest flights.

Qantas has made good progress on this, and in late 2019 the airline announced that they’ve selected the A350-1000 for this “mission.”

Airbus has essentially proposed adding an additional fuel tank to the A350-1000 while also increasing the maximum takeoff weight, which would give the A350-1000 the range it requires.

Qantas has decided on the A350-1000 if they move forward with Project Sunrise, but up until now they haven’t fully decided on whether they’ll move forward with the project or not. The airline has until the end of March to finalize their order with Airbus, assuming they want to commence flights by early 2023.

Pilot negotiations are proving tricky

Before the March 2020 deadline, one important issue that Qantas has tried to finalize is their agreement with pilots for these flights.

Qantas has been negotiating with their pilots union, AIPA. Discussions center on productivity and efficiency gains, and when we’re talking about flights this long, there are quite a few points to negotiate:

  • Can Qantas use the same pilots across the A330 and A350?
  • How many pilots will be required for these ultra long haul flights? Ultra long haul flights usually have four, but should these flights have even more pilots, given how long they are?
  • How will those pilots need to be split up between captains, first officers, and second officers, given the different wages? Is one captain, one first officer, and two second officers sufficient, or do these flights need more senior pilots?
  • What should the pay scale look like for pilots who fly the A350?

Qantas is looking for some concessions from pilots, claiming these new flights would lead to more pilot jobs and promotion opportunities. But the union is playing hardball.

Qantas doesn’t actually care what pilots think

On Thursday, Qantas International CEO Tino La Spina sent an email to pilots, essentially threatening to hire new, lower cost pilots altogether if they couldn’t agree to the terms management wants:

“We will be left with no viable alternative but to have Sunrise flying performed by a new employment entity that can provide the cost base we need for this important business opportunity.

To be absolutely clear, this is not our preferred option. And we know that flagging this will not be well received by many of you. But we want to make sure you have all relevant information when you are weighing a decision.”

The issue seems to come down to second officer pay. Qantas is offering a mild pay increase and improved conditions to existing pilots, but wants to be able to pay future second officers (the most junior pilots, who will largely work as relief pilots on these flights) less.

At this point Qantas is saying that they’ll offer a wage package directly to pilots to vote on, if they can’t get anywhere with the union. The logic is that presumably individual pilots would accept what’s a better deal for them, while the union cares more about the pay and working conditions for future pilots.

The head of the pilots union has responded with the following:

“The approach that Qantas is now showing publicly has been a characteristic of these discussions and shows how this business would apparently prefer ultimatums at this critical juncture to building consensus.”

If Qantas can’t get anywhere directly with pilots, they’re even threatening to hire a new group of pilots altogether who would exclusively operate these Project Sunrise flights at lower costs.

Bottom line

It seems like Qantas is ready to move forward with Project Sunrise, regardless of whether the pilots are onboard or not.

On the surface I find the “we’ll just hire people cheaper than you if you don’t want to do it” approach to be off-putting, especially given the extent to which the airline industry is seniority based. That means employees largely don’t have the option of realistically switching companies if they’re not happy with what they’re being offered.

That being said, I’m not fully privy to where both parties stand at this point to know for sure whether the pilots or management are being unrealistic here.

  1. @cind

    Opposite in China, Low-cost carrier hires high-cost pilots and often expat to attract pilots, while Big Three(CZ-MU-CA) famous for hiring with lower wages given its popularity

  2. I’m being very blonde and simple on this one (I am both):
    My understanding is that the captain/pilot has the last say on whether or not a flight starts and takes place.

    He/she is ultimately responsible for all souls on the flight. End of story.

  3. @Lins77

    I’m being very blonde and simple on this one (I am neither):
    My understanding is that the management/HR has the last say on whether or not a employment starts and takes place.

    He/she is ultimately responsible for pilot’s having a job or no job . End of story.

  4. A second officer? US carriers have not employed second officers since Northwest retired the DC-10, which had a flight engineer position. US carriers staff their longest flights with two captains and two first officers. No wonder the Qantas pilots union is upset. If Qantas staffed Sunrise flights with two captains and two first officers, there would not be an issue.

  5. @Sam:

    you are correct in that US Airlines have not employed second officers (flight engineers) in many years.

    However, some Asian airlines (and Qantas) hire very low-time (inexperienced) pilots and designate them second officers. They generally only sit in the seat at cruise, and are considered relief pilots. After years of being a seat warmer, they can try to upgrade to first officer.

  6. @Eskimo – My simplicity far outweighs your approach to a business application or logic.
    Souls first; HR/management irrelevant.

  7. Australians moan about everything. No wonder Qantas has to look elsewhere or at least ‘below’ probably a bunch of predominantly white older (ie more senior rank) males for their pilots on this.

  8. abey – In what way are these flights “more complex”? Surely it’s exactly the same as any other flight, just longer?

  9. @abey

    Qantas promotions are granted on a seniority basis – while there is a minimum level of competency required; the most senior pilot doesn’t always mean the best.

  10. So back in 2011 the pilots union APIA, along with the TWU and ALEA decided on industrial action. As a person who was impacted often – it was a nightmare. They would strike often and with little notice, and at busy times. As a result of this, Alan Joyce grounded the entire fleet – domestic and international. Needless to say, Alan Joyce won and the industrial action was ceased. I am guessing AIPA will have learnt from the past wrt industrial action. Alan Joyce is not always a popular man in Australia and is often criticised including for his salary, however, the Australian airline industry (like many countries) has been tough. Ansett (which was Qantas’s main domestic competitor) went broke, along with another domestic carrier after Ansett (whose name I can not remember) – yet Qantas has survived and continues to be profitable. Personally I think it is because he makes though decisions which are not always popular.

  11. @ Sam
    @ Jeff
    … well QANTAS QF is no US airline and other then Asian Airlines also many EU carriers do there long range operation with a 3. Pilot (Relief Pilot) as a Second Officer or so called and higher paid relief Pilot.
    Other areas, different rules!
    While in the US, nobody from an airline cares if a flight is cancelled or delayed, in the EU that could get costly and all pressure is put in tact to avoid that, also flying to the US, but different places, different rules, so is QF trying to split the cost in a VERY differnt way in that case, even if US Airlines don’t hire Second Officers anymore, just give it a new name and the child is born again.

  12. Good for Quantas… they sound like they are being bery reasonable… it sounds like the unions are simply screwing it up for the actual pilots. That’s union mentality though…

  13. Didn’t the pilots at Qantas get hosed on the last round of contracts because they trusted management’s promises? If so, management delivering threatening ultimatums could really backfire on these ivory tower execs.

  14. As far as I am aware, no flight deck is crewed only with a captain and a second officer. Captain and first officer, and then second officer as trainee crew, which means that if given operating tasks, is observed by the first officer, who would not be directly involved in tasks.

    QF and unions should realise that project sunrise requires, for the safety of all on board, 2 Captians and 2 First Officers.

    This does not automatically mean that there needs to be extra pay attached to these crew. Far from it, rest periods at home and destination far more important.

    I would be very surprised if the concept of decreasing work periods for very senior crew, nearing retirement age were not to be embraced.

  15. Callum says:
    February 14, 2020 at 3:38 pm
    abey – In what way are these flights “more complex”? Surely it’s exactly the same as any other flight, just longer?

    Callum – u r clueless, glwt

    Union haters – when things go wrong over the middle of the Pacific…the most inexperienced, lowest paid, and tired pilots can all be yours… the plane can fly itself anyway, so any teenager with a gaming background is all you need, right?

  16. Quanta Management “ Could “ lead to friction on the Flight Deck = certainly not desirable due to difference in pay scales for doing same work. You need Senior Captains on the Flight Deck . The Tragic events of the Loss of AF 447 whilst Captain was in the Toilet leaving inexperienced Pilots in Command. Is so easily forgotten.

  17. Given the required rest periods for these 20 hour flights, there will be entire shifts where a Captain won’t be in the cockpit at all, as a Captain will be required to be in the cockpit at take-off and landing.

    That suggests to me that a full 6-person crew will be needed, with at least 2 Captains, 2 FOs and 2 SOs. They might be able to do away with just 1 SO, but is that really going to make a big financial impact? My guess is that Qantas mgmt already knows the project won’t be profitable and is looking for someone or something to blame for its failure.

  18. @Callum

    You are correct. Longer flights are not any more difficult than shorter flights. In fact, it’s likely Second Officers on these flights won’t even touch the controls beyond the autopilot.

    However, that begs another question… If all these Second Officer will be doing is sitting there and logging hours, what experience will they have to rely on when being promoted to First Officer? How will those logged hours of doing nothing make them better pilots? Is it simply a way to log hours to meet ATP standards? At least in Europe and Asia Second Officers actually fly with instructors and perform ALL functions if a pilot regularly, including take-offs and landings.

  19. @Chucky777

    You are clearly an idiot and have been caught at it. That’s why you have nothing to say except running your filthy mouth.

  20. For the union haters that commented, aviation industry is all seniority based, hiring a group of low cost pilots to fly the senior routes is blatantly seniority violation and I guess you are ok with your employer hiring a cheap worker to do your job if you are not happy with the salary package.
    For those think junior/inexperienced pilots can fly this ultra long haul flight just as well as the senior ones, you apparently don’t know what flying entails in cruise or in any emergency situation. There’s a reason why airlines add a lot more into international flying training. Anything goes wrong over the pacific, you better hope you have a darn good seasoned captain

  21. They should get 3rd officers, who would be deputized flight attendants. After all, nurse practitioners sometimes call themselves “doctor”. The 3rd officers would only fly on low traffic areas of the ocean and call the captain if there is trouble. No joke.

  22. I love how all these commenters completely ignore the fact that the company wants crew to work more than 24 hours straight – as a normal duty.
    They can pretend it’s only about the money, but the reality is- they want crew ( cabin & pilot) to do massively long and fatiguing tours of duty including night flying and with the impact of Jetlag, without properly investigating the long term impact on the crew.
    Three “test” flights on different aircraft and without real world duties involved does not give an accurate indication of how this would work logistically and what impact this type of flying would have on the crew’s health.
    They want an agreement in place to pay less and have given no indication of the rest times, gaps between flights, crew numbers, or whether there will be limitations on how many of these types of flights can be done in a row.
    Pilots are at least semi-protected ( for
    Now!) by FRMS and CASA limits.
    Cabin crew have no such protections and when an emergency happens and the aircraft goes down: it’s the cabin crew that need to be able to assess the safety of the situation and get you out.
    The Enterprise Agreements ( negotiated by the unions) are often their only protection.
    There is no duty limit for Australian cabin crew under the law.
    Flying to London then turning around 24 hours later to go home is already a possibility. EU regulations prevent cabin crew based there from being flown until they drop. We have no such protections under Australian Legislation and the
    Style of negotiation we see demonstrated here By Qantas management does not indicate any level of understanding of the actual jobs of pilots and cabin crew.
    Do as we say or we’ll find someone else to exploit in your place. This is not something to be proud of in an Australian Company.

  23. Well for all of you who are saying good for Qantas and screw the union.. Get ready. Pilots delaying and canceling Qantas flights from. Left to right. There are things where you cant afford to be cheap and this is one of those.

  24. Union haters are such hypocrites. If your jobs were ever threatened with a cheaper, less experienced work force you all would be outraged. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, and hopefully if it does you don’t have a crowd cheering “good job management, keep screwing your experienced, well paid employees that want to stand up for their career”.

  25. Its all about fatigue, not skill.
    As a passenger flying a 20hr flight, who would you rather rely upon for quick decision making:
    A 50 year old captain who hasn’t slept too well out of a bed, or
    A 30 year old who can sleep on a clothes line and be instantly able to respond.

    A few years’ experience is all that is required, not a lifetime which started on vastly different equipment with no IT/AI, irrelevant instrumentation and unresponsive power units.

    There are a congress of accidents where an autocratic senior training captain has been directly responsible for events resulting in disasters, notably Tenerife where a junior officer raised a warning, which the captain overruled, resulting in the collision of two 747’s on the runway.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *