Pilot fatigue and pay are not the only stress points in the flight roster disagreements that have made it hard for Virgin Blue to stick to its schedules.
There is the relationship with the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, the union which most people might have thought had the life crushed out of it by Bob Hawke’s response to the domestic pilots strike of 1989.
The AFAP didn’t die. It represents about four out of five Virgin Blue pilots. It also covers about one in three Jetstar pilots and most of those flying for Qantas regional carriers like Sunstate. But for Virgin Blue, the AFAP was a critical element of its early success and some pilots are telling Crikey that the dispute is a sharp reminder that the original culture of the airline is now broken.
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Those that stuck with the AFAP under the presidency of Captain Brian McCarthy were blacklisted for life after the 1989 strike, and forced overseas to fly. Virgin Blue brought them back after 12 years or longer in exile. And they gave the new airline the depth and breadth of piloting experience that provided an operational integrity it could not have acquired from scratch to grow from two 737s to a fleet of 32 in less than three years from launch. It has 53 jets in service today with another 30 or so due in service over the next three years.