By David Knibb in Brisbane

Its latest move stems from the closure of wholly owned subsidiary Australian Airlines. Australian stopped flying under its own name at the end of June, but Qantas is wet-leasing Australian’s Boeing 767s repainted in Qantas livery and operated by Australian cockpit and cabin crews on routes Qantas has taken over from Australian. This arrangement saves Qantas about a third off its normal costs.

Predictably, Qantas unions are distressed. They see it as another step – combined with basing lower-paid crews overseas, outsourcing, and turning Qantas routes over to low-cost subsidiaries – as further eroding job security and benefits for Qantas staff.

Qantas says it has no plans to wet- lease Australian aircraft and crews on any routes other than those Australian had flown. Qantas pilots say they would be “alarmed” if it did. Conversely, Qantas has announced no date for shutting Australian down, prompting unions to fear that it may become a permanent wet lease operator.

Qantas flightcrews have negotiated caps on foreign crew bases, but those caps do not apply to a wet-lease deal such as this one with Australian. It is also unclear whether those caps apply to the Qantas subsidiary based in New Zealand called JetConnect. Set up to operate and crew Qantas flights within New Zealand, JetConnect now supplies flight crews for some Qantas trans-Tasman flights between New Zealand and Australia. JetConnect pays local staff at prevailing local rates in less-expensive New Zealand dollars. By some estimates, this saves Qantas up to 50%. Qantas flight attendants are worried by Qantas plans to hire more JetConnect crew after announcing that it will retrench 325 Australia-based crew.

Finally, the caps on basing flightcrews overseas do not apply to the transfer of Qantas flights to its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar. At the planned launch of Jetstar International in November, Qantas will turn over frequencies and in some cases entire routes to Jetstar, whose costs are 40-45% lower. Qantas pilots are calling for Jetstar International pilots to be covered under the same labour contract as Qantas pilots, a proposal that Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon rejects. ■

Source: Airline Business