Qantas Pilots Agree To Project Sunrise But Virus Threatens Timeline

Qantas’ well-publicized ultra-long-haul innovation, dubbed Project Sunrise, has finally reached a deal on pay and conditions with the airline’s pilots. The pilots voted 85% in favor of the deal today, ending a bitter dispute between executives and workers. However, with the order for the A350-1000 to operate the flights now pushed back to the end of the year, the 2022 timeline for starting the flights is looking increasingly shaky.

Qantas has reached a deal with pilots at last. Photo: Getty Images.

Project Sunrise reaches agreement with pilots

The eagerly anticipated Project Sunrise flights from Qantas have edged a little closer to becoming a reality today. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, Qantas’ pilots have backed the latest modifications to a pay deal, meaning the flights can go ahead once the rest of the details are ironed out.

Famously belligerent boss Alan Joyce had previously locked horns with the pilots’ unions over how much they would be paid to operate the world’s longest flights. The so-called Project Sunrise flights would see pilots working for far longer than ever before, around 18 to 20 hours. As such there was some resistance from the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) regarding the actual pay deal on offer.

Joyce threatened to use other pilots for the flight. Photo: Qantas

Not one to be backed into a corner, Joyce and International chief executive Tino La Spina had issued a threat that the flights would move ahead regardless of whether the pilots cooperated or not. In an email seen by the Sydney Morning Herald, La Spina said,

“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.”

Whether it was the threat of using ‘other’ pilots to perform the service or a more attractive pay deal on the table is unclear at this stage. However, the pilots have now voted in favor of the pay and conditions deal, with 85% of pilots backing the agreement.

Another block in the road

However, despite now finally securing support from pilots, Qantas is facing another headwind as the current coronavirus pandemic has left the airline in a precarious economic situation. Having halted all international flying, Qantas is in damage limitation mode and has pushed back the deadline for ordering the 12 A350-1000s for Project Sunrise until the end of the year.

The A350-1000 order has been pushed back to December. Photo: Qantas

Qantas chief pilot Captain Richard Tobiano sent an email to pilots regarding the situation, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, which said,

“Reaching an agreement … means that we have now met the flight operations component of the Project Sunrise business case.

“The extraordinary circumstances facing aviation has seen Airbus agree to extend the deadline on our decision to purchase the A350s so we can focus on navigating the coronavirus crisis.

“When this period has passed, and it will, we will refocus our attention on Project Sunrise and the A350 order.”

Qantas has grounded the entirety of its long-haul fleet. Photo: Getty Images.

The airline has, over the weekend, grounded the entirety of its long-haul fleet. In tandem, it is scaling back its domestic operations to around 10% of its regular capacity. As a result, around two-thirds of the airline’s workforce, an estimated 20,000 employees, have been stood down until demand resumes.

Are you pleased to see the pilots finally agreeing to a deal with Qantas, or is it irrelevant in the current climate? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.