Long-haul Qantas A380 pilots are speaking up about the pressures of being out of the cockpit. According to media reports, the airline’s online communication system on Yammer is filled with stories of A380 pilots feeling the pressure of not flying, not having a secure future, and for many, constant worries about money.
A report by Matt O’Sullivan in The Sydney Morning Herald broke the story on Thursday. Qantas executive John Gissing started a chat on Yammer in June as part of Men’s Health Week. Qantas grounded its fleet of A380 in March 2020. It is a topic we’ve followed on Simple Flying. Most of the A380 pilots have been grounded as well.
On one level, the impact is financial. A fully-fledged Qantas A380 Captain earns about US$327,000 annually. Stood down A380 Captains are now picking up about US$370 per week via a government subsidy program that runs out in a few months time. In addition, The Sydney Morning Herald reports a further 200 Qantas pilots are also on leave without pay.
“Every waking thought goes not just to figuring out ways to get money coming in so I can keep my apartment and food in the fridge, but also thinking about what could happen in the future,” one out-of-work pilot said on Yammer.
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Australian and International Pilots Association president weighs in
“I’m fed up,” A380 Captain Murray Butt told The Australian newspaper. “Qantas needs to make a decision about our future, whether we’re going to retrain on another aircraft. We can’t sit around till November 2023.”
Captain Butt, also the Australian and International Pilots Association president, now drives a bus while waiting for Qantas to reboot its A380s, currently scheduled sometime in 2023.
“My last flight was March 23, 2020, when I arrived back from London,” Captain Butt told Steve Price on Australia Today on Friday. “We were told in London that we would be stood down.”
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce remains committed to resuming A380 services. He is one of the few CEOs of airlines operating the A380 who’ve done so.
“We think we will reactivate all of the A380s. We spent a lot of money on them. Once demand is there, they’re going to be good aircraft,” Mr Joyce said in April. The following month, while further trimming the airline’s workforce, Alan Joyce emphasized the need to retain certified A380 flight crews. Captain Butts notes the “positive noise” from Qantas but says pilots want something more concrete.
A380 pilots out driving harvesters in wheat fields
Many Qantas’ A330 and 787 Dreamliner pilots who fly international routes are being redeployed onto domestic and repatriation flights. But A380 pilots would need extensive retraining to switch to flying smaller aircraft, especially if eyeing flying the Boeing 737-800 workhorse of Qantas’ domestic fleet.
“The tie-up is usually to the aircraft. You are only endorsed to one aircraft at a time,” Captain Butts says. “Pilots who have many people’s lives in their hands as they fly them around the world are sitting out on harvesters working for farmers now. It’s great for the farmers that they’ve got people with such technical experience, sitting on a harvester pulling off a wheat or barley crop, but it’s not what you were trained for.”
Captain Butts highlights the resourcefulness and resilience of pilots. He says those skills are part of the job that stands out-of-work pilots in good stead. But he says welfare checks from both Qantas and AIPA will never uncover the true extent of financial and mental stresses out-of-work pilots face.
“The mental health of many stood down pilots is at breaking point,” one pilot said on Yammer. “Dealing with no income for a few months, let alone 12 months and potentially more than two years, is a significant challenge for people to deal with. Qantas Airways has a significant part to play in how their employees progress through this journey and how they come out the other side.”