On the figures released this morning Qantas could be losing up to $338 million in this last half of its financial year ending 30 June.

The new guidance is a full year profit of between $100-200 million before tax, but this includes a different treatment of the profits it makes from selling frequent flyer points to people who don’t earn them flying, but as part of their use by retailers and credit or charge cards.

That is just one of the disclosures made by CEO Alan Joyce and his CFO Colin Storrie after a formal announcement of a blood bath in the senior ranks, with the axing of a further 500 management positions and the loss of an equivalent of 1250 full time positions, through work sharing, compulsory leave and similar measures.

The management job losses are above the 90 announced last month.

Qantas is also taking another three Airbus A380s as planned this year, but deferring the following four by up to one year and delaying one dozen Boeing 737-800s by a similar period.

Qantas is locked in negotiations with Boeing over the cancellation or long term deferral of at least 15 of the already chronically late Boeing Dreamliner 787s it has on order.

Joyce was tight lipped on those negotiations.

The headline revised guidance for the full year to 30 June of a profit before tax of between $100-200 million compares to the guidance in February of a PBT of $500 million.

However Qantas made a PBT of $288 million in the six months to 31 December, so it is losing money overall no matter what as it moves to conserve cash in the face of a sharp drop in yields and demand.

The restructuring costs of $150 million caused by the latest job losses and capacity cuts involving the withdrawal of 10 jets or nearly 5% of the Qantas fleet will be offset by booking $150 million in the “marketing share” of the sale to third parties of Qantas frequent flyer points instead of deferring the costs and profits of such sales until the rewards have actually been taken.

Chief financial officer Colin Storrie said Qantas had decided to do this from January 1 because “other airlines do it.”

The bottom line is that if Qantas books a PBT of $100 million in the full year, it will be losing not just $188 million of the $288 million it made to 31 December, but $338 million if it hadn’t decided to take a forward benefit of $150 million from the sale of loyalty points to non-flyers to replace the same amount in restructuring costs.

Joyce revealed that Qantas was suffering serious losses on its international routes, despite filling many flights in March with cheap promotional fares, while the group’s domestic, regional and Jetstar operations continued to hold their ground.

Overall, demand for business class long haul fares is down by between 15-20%. Jetstar has flat lined domestically but is performing strongly on international services.

Joyce emphasised the preservation of as many of the non-management jobs at Qantas as possible, which are also the jobs of those that could go on strike.

He said overseas maintenance contracts were not being renewed and the work was being brought back to Australia to conserve cash. His comments will add to the growing view that he takes a much different and more positive view of the worth of non-management staff at Qantas that his predecessor Geoff Dixon, whose allies in the organisation have now largely been culled.

Today’s measures mean capital expenditure by the group to 30 June is revised down by $200 million to $1.8 billion, while falling by $800 million to $1.3 billion in 08-09, when the benefit of most of the aircraft deferrals will become apparent.

This figure could improve further if agreement is reached with Boeing over the Dreamliner orders.

With perfect timing, Qantas’s oneworld alliance partner Cathay Pacific today launched two for the price of one business class deals affecting many Qantas destinations, and on the domestic front Tiger tried to breath new life into its $30 fly anywhere deal, which expires shortly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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