Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon really is a
strange fellow. With a series of vital decisions to make at tomorrow’s
board meeting, the former Wagga Daily Advertiser reporter decided to give Alan Kohler and Inside Business one of the most interesting television interviews with a corporate leader this year.

Alan Kohler had apparently been asking for a couple of weeks and
finally spoke to Dixon on Friday afternoon in Sydney. It almost looked
like Dixon chose to deliberately use the ABC to extract bid
improvements from Boeing and Airbus.

Kohler: Just looking at the fleet renewal first – how big a
decision is that? I’ve seen figures of $20 billion, $27 billion, being
talked about.

Dixon: It depends on how much we can knock the manufacturers
down, how much the money is. But certainly it will be in the vicinity
of $15 billion to $20 billion, and that is on top of $18 billion we
already have being expended from 2000 to 2010. So it’s very
significant.

Kohler: Is that a decision that’s already been made?

Dixon: This one? No, it’s not. It goes to the board next week
and whether the decision made there will depend on what the board feels
and indeed what recommendation the management wants to make and to tell
you the truth, we haven’t decided that as yet.

Kohler: Only a few days to go.

Dixon: It is, but there is still a lot to come. That’s the closest contractual race I have ever seen in my time in the industry.

If that isn’t using public pressure to influence a tender process then
I’ll go heave. C’mon boys, how badly do you want it? Let’s see who can
come down another $500 million. Throw in two more planes and it’s
yours.

And wasn’t that poor form of The AFR yesterday to follow the story but only refer to “a television interview”. The same Inside Business program featured this interview with The AFR’s retiring Pierpont columnist, Trevor Sykes, after 50 years in the business. AFR bosses presumably still hold a grudge against Kohler for daring to leave after they cut his pay. The Australian was more charitable giving full credit as it led yesterday’s business section with the story.

Finally, Flight Centre shares have recovered 35c to $9.41 this morning
after yesterday 12% slump inspired by another piece of heavy-handed
work by Qantas in slashing commissions to travel agents for the second
time in a year.

The Mangy Roo is always complaining about how tough things are yet the
fact remains that profit was up 18% to a record $764 million last year
and the new aircraft will be comfortably funded out of operating cash
flow.

There’s
always someone being shafted or some Canberra string being pulled.
Dixon will no doubt use the threat of offshoring maintenance jobs
against the Federal Government as it decides whether to grant Singapore
Airlines access to the lucrative Pacific route.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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