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Op Ed for The Guardian on the return to flying

OpEd for The Guardian

By Tony Lucas, President Australian and International Pilots Association.

(Tony Lucas is a Qantas Check and Training Captain flying the Airbus A330.)


Qantas pilots are a passionate bunch. We are passionate about our airline. We are passionate about its history. And we are passionate about its legacy and the role that we play in it.

We go to work every day with passenger safety foremost in our minds. It is our primary focus and the single issue that occupies our energy and passion. Safety before schedule is our mantra.

As we emerge from the pandemic, the operational challenges are significant. Many of the issues facing the industry have been well documented (and experienced by thousands of people), with long lines for security, delayed flights, mis-handled baggage, and lack of catering now an everyday occurrence.

Each of these individual issues can be part of a ‘normal’ day for pilots, but as travel demand grows, our crews are now facing them on every sector, across multiple sectors in a day, multiple days in a week, week after week. It is a unique challenge.

But despite these challenges and complexities, whilst on time performance might be closer to 60%, our pilots ensure that 100% of flights arrive safely.

There’s no doubt that the airline’s safety record is underpinned by the skill, professionalism, and experience of its pilots. We are hardworking, diligent, safety-minded professionals who value the training and experience developed over a lifetime of operating around Australia and the world.

As we strive to hold together the operation in the face of these challenges, it is frustrating and baffling to find our livelihoods and futures continuously threatened by a relentlessly aggressive industrial strategy. One that focuses on profit at the expense of so much else.

Qantas pilots are no longer regarded as assets, instead we are viewed as ‘cost centres’. With various Qantas pilot cohorts pitted against each other in an industrial take on the ‘Hunger Games’ premise.

In 2020, Qantas pilots were threatened that if they didn’t vote for the demanded working conditions for Project Sunrise (direct Australia-London and Australia-New York services), the flying would be outsourced to some other Qantas corporate entity with new pilots hired in.

This year, domestic pilots faced losing their jobs when the airline threatened to hire more than 700 new pilots to fly new Airbus A321XLRs for Project Winton to replace Boeing 737s by 2024 unless it secured ‘efficiencies.’

We go to work every day, putting passenger safety first. Whilst at the same time our employer is prepared to hold a metaphorical gun to our heads over working conditions. It threatens to outsource pilot jobs to the lowest bidder, threatens livelihoods and careers. Careers borne of hard-won experience and dedication. Expertise committed to keeping the Australian travelling public safe.

Qantas pilots love our airline and we love what it stands for. We are proud to be a part of the Spirit of Australia. Yet how Qantas treats its workforce when it comes to industrial relations is in marked contrast to the emotions of the “Spirit of Australia” and “I Still Call Australia Home”.

We want to work with Qantas to overcome the airline’s current challenges and ensure that the safety margins that Qantas pilots are renowned for are maintained.

It should be of concern to the travelling public that instead of treating pilots as well-trained and capable assets to be valued, Qantas is hell bent on continuing to cut costs and seeking to auction pilot jobs off to the lowest bidder. But there seems little appetite for a change of attitude towards its employees under the airline’s current leadership.

Fortunately, our professionalism and desire for operational excellence will never waver. That is our commitment to you.