No-one is putting hard figures on this, but Qantas faces widespread safety compliance enforced shut downs of its inter-city services by the end of this week unless it resolves its dispute with the maintenance union.

Several dozen Boeing 767s, the back bone of the Cityflyer services, are running out of time to have defects corrected.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority said this morning he knew of no arrangements to extend the legal period in which multiply defective jets can continue in service.

The painful reality for Qantas is that it is being done slowly but thoroughly by the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association which is supporting its demand for 5% pay rises rather than the 3% on offer with over time bans.

There appears to be a scab shortage.

The union members are still working, and being paid, and the airline is grinding to a halt around them.

The airline can’t find enough qualified people in management to check and sign out jets for their next scheduled flight, even if they are within a period in which defects, which may include small cabin pressure leaks as well as blocked toilets or drains, are allowed to fly unfixed.

In recent days Qantas has diverted some international 747s to routes like Sydney-Melbourne to take the pressure off the 767s. Unfortunately the 747s are hard to efficiently load and unload between short flights, compounding the frustration for travellers already displaced by fog closures at major airports.

There are unconfirmed reports of Melbourne ground engineers not trained in 747 operations refusing to handle the jet in accordance with company rules, and being docked four hours pay for refusing to engage in what is technically dismissible conduct in service a jet for which they have no qualifications.

There are complaints from travellers that the Sydney-Melbourne trip is taking up to 6-8 hours by air, totally destroying the typical day trip to do business between either.

It can be driven in 10 hours at street legal speeds with several rest stops.

Peter Fray

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