While Geoff Dixon appears to have been ejected from Qantas faster than an oxygen bottle can burst through the side of a rusting jet, tips about an announcement of his successor were being made weeks ago.

The shock however comes from Alan Joyce, the CEO of Jetstar, being named designate chief executive over the favourite Peter Greg, the CFO, and the second favourite, executive general manager John Borghetti.

With hindsight there were clues from Jetstar people that Joyce was indeed the man, including jokes about how good the giant Airbus A380 would look in Jetstar colours.

Dixon achieved incredibly good things for Qantas shareholders, and the Australian Government, since he turned into a taxpaying enterprise an airline that more than recovered all the losses it had incurred between being nationalised by the Chifley government upon the end of World War II and privatised in 1993.

His critics, however, damn him for also diminishing the Qantas brand by under resourcing maintenance to the point where the airline stood more for unreliable and dirty jets than quality flight, and safety was eroded to the point where overflowing sinks nearly brought down a 747 when they shorted most of the electrical system.

It is a controversial legacy, and it’s a fair bet to say Dixon won’t give a damn. At the recent media conference announcing job cuts at Qantas he was challenged about the legacy he would leave when he left. He replied, “I don’t even think about my legacy.” At that conference Dixon said he expected to leave around mid February, when the first half results for the current year are released.

Joyce is very much a non-legacy man too. He has driven Dixon’s agenda for rooting out legacy mindsets and entrenched work practices in Jetstar in pursuit of a new mass market for low fares and undermining the old Qantas ways until, eventually, its procedures and standards would be those of the budget carrier.

It had been widely expected that Jetstar will in effect take over Qantas. But not under Joyce.

Coincidentally, there are signs of problems with the Jetstar model during high fuel prices and economic uncertainty. Dixon is on the record many times recently as saying demand was drying up at the low fare end of the market. And his critics had argued that he was also disguising the subsidising of Jetstar through the transfer of assets from Qantas.

How Joyce deals with the new dynamics of high oil air transport is the big unknown.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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