Qantas Fatigue Risk Management Plan Approved For 20 Hour Plus Flights

Qantas has just signed off on a fatigue risk management system (FRMS) that helps pave the way for the proposed ultra-long-range Project Sunrise flights.

Qantas has a new FRMS that covers 20+ flights but not Project Sunrise flights. Photo: Qantas News Room.

The latest FRMS was given the thumbs up by Australia’s aviation safety regulator, CASA, following a 12-month trial. While the new FRMS allows for flights in excess of the current 20-hour ceiling, Project Sunrise flights will still need to be approved on a route by route basis.

However, a Qantas spokesperson told Simple Flying that this FRMS is an important regulatory step in advance of Project Sunrise.

A calm and steely airline CEO

The clock is ticking for Qantas. Their self-imposed deadline for announcing whether Project Sunrise would go-ahead is the end of March.

If Qantas boss, Alan Joyce is feeling any pressure, he isn’t showing it. As the deadline approaches, Mr. Joyce and his team are going onto the front foot to clear the last obstacles out of their way.

On the other hand, the Qantas pilots union, the Australian International Pilots Association (AIPA), must be feeling some pressure.

Negotiations between Qantas and AIPA continue over a pay deal with ultra-long-range flights. This pay deal will incorporate agreement and acceptance of matters such as FRMS. The negotiations have gone on for some time and have been characterized by their acrimony.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has warned he will bring in new pilots to operate Project Sunrise flights if AIPA doesn’t come to the party. Photo: Qantas News Room.

While CASA said they had taken into account AIPA’s concerns in approving the latest FRMS, AIPA had a limited role to play in the approvals process.

This FRMS is unusual in that it was put together by Qantas, rather than Qantas adopting a template model from CASA. However, CASA did oversee and audit the entire process.

AIPA not happy at being sidelined

The relative sidelining of the AIPA hasn’t impressed them. AIPA President Mark Sedgewick said;

“This is a clear breach of the regulator’s legal and safety responsibilities, according to advice from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which states that pilots must be involved at all stages of an FRMS implementation.

“AIPA is concerned that Qantas is fast-tracking the establishment of an FRMS in order to allow certainty over an investment decision for the delivery of its A350 aircraft order.

“This has the potential to undermine safety and threaten Qantas’ reputation.”

A classic Alan Joyce move

The sidelining of AIPA is a classic Alan Joyce maneuver. Done and dusted, thanks for coming.  In recent weeks, Alan Joyce has ratcheted up the pressure on AIPA by suggesting Qantas could recruit a fresh pool of pilots if a pay deal couldn’t be brokered.

It wasn’t management’s preferred course of action, Qantas International CEO Tino La Spina said in February, but it was a live option. Anyone who is familiar with Mr. Joyce’s history of negotiation with unions would agree the fuse is probably already burning on this one.

On matters IR, Alan Joyce’s key lieutenant at Jetstar, Gareth Evans, has sidestepped his ground crew’s union, the Transport Workers Union, by putting a proposed enterprise bargaining agreement directly to employees. The employees voted to accept the offer. That’s another union put down by the Qantas group – temporarily at least.

A lot of pilots happy to head home

The coronavirus outbreak might be impacting Qantas’ bottom line, but it is also releasing thousands of pilots onto the employment market. Many of the pilots now flying for the largely idle Chinese mega carriers were trained and sourced from western airlines like Qantas.

There are a lot of highly trained and underutilized pilots on the market right now. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Apparently, quite a few of them would be happy to call Sydney home and to take a paycheck from Qantas once again.

While the clock is ticking for Qantas, the stars are also aligning for it. With its bete noire, AIPA, on the backfoot, Qantas can push through the changes it needs – with or without AIPA’s assistance and approval. According to its half-yearly investor notes released last week, barring these last few hiccups, the airline is locked and loaded and ready to call Airbus to confirm those A350s.

An announcement is due by the end of the month. Qantas will probably spring it a week or two early. They do that regularly. Flights are due to commence in 2023.