Qantas: Project Sunrise gets the ‘go’ from pilots Union
The members of the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) have reportedly voted 85% in favour of the proposed Qantas deal for pilots of the A350-1000’s to ply the new Project Sunrise routes. That was the last piece of the jigsaw until along came the COVID-19 crisis.
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A350 order delayed
Qantas has cancelled all international flights as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and given the financial impact this will have on the airline, has pushed back the order deadline for the A350-1000 planes it proposes to use on the Project Sunrise routes until December 2020. Given the current status of the airline industry, Airbus is not in a position to argue.
Qantas claims that the delay in the order will not impact its plan to initiate flights in the first quarter of 2023.
We don’t know the details of the new enterprise bargaining agreement with pilots that gained a vote of approval today, but it is expected to contain a 3% annual pay increase and extra overtime payments for these ultra-long flights. On the employer side, Qantas has been seeking ‘productivity improvements’ which it has claimed are necessary to make the economics of Project Sunrise work.
Negotiations turned toxic when Qantas threatened to set up a new employment entity to negotiate the deal outside the AIPA. Ultimately the President of the AIPA Mark Sedgwick advised members that a ‘yes’ vote to the Qantas offered deal ‘was the best way forward.’ Despite a virulent group advocating a ‘no’ vote, it looks like the union leadership’s advice was heeded by the majority of members.
Qantas’s ultra-long flights, or ‘Project Sunrise’ as they have become known aim to provide non-stop flights between the east coast of Australia and destinations such as London, Paris, New York, Rio and Frankfurt, from 2023.
New planes mean new cabins
The arrival of the A350-1000’s will also herald new cabins. I’m sure Qantas is reviewing any preliminary plans, while the COVID-19 crisis potentially reshapes the entire airline industry.
If that’s not dramatic enough, airline seating products have changed substantially since the last time Qantas updated its interior product. Qatar has provided enclosed business class suites with doors, and Singapore Airlines has provided seats and separate bed’s to replace its first-class suites. Emirates has revolutionised first-class cabins with completely enclosed suites, some with virtual windows.
I’ve been highly cynical about whether the whole Project Sunrise hype from Qantas will actually bear fruit in reality.
In the current COVID-19 crisis, my doubt has been heightened. I think it may prompt some major changes in the industry, or at the very least reduce the number of airlines in the game. What impact this will have on the desirability of these ultra-long-haul flights is hard to predict. On the one hand, the idea of not having to traverse a stop-over airport and expose yourself to potential contaminants seems attractive given the current COVID-19 crisis. On the other hand, the industry may be greatly diminished after this crisis, and take years to recover.
A380 v B787
This reminds me of the A380 versus B787 debate at the start of the Millenium. Will bulk carriage between hubs (the A380) be more successful than point to point (the B787) flights was the question then, and we know how that has worked out. Despite passengers loving the A380, the airlines found it difficult to make the economics work in their favour.
It turned out that the restriction on slots at major airports was not sufficient to make the hub to hub model that the A380 was designed for work financially. It was the smaller 787 with its greater efficiency that allowed point-to-point flights to win out.
Mind you there is always Emirates, being the exception that proves the rule.
If we follow this history, then Qantas are possibly on a winner with Project Sunrise, especially those who travel towards the pointy end of the plane.
On the other hand, some say that if the A380 had been developed a few years later with the greater efficiencies available then, it would be a winner economically, as well as with passengers.
In 2023 we will know the answer.