Given the uproar caused by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power running a book on airlines going broke, what odds might be given on Qantas or Virgin Blue going bust?

No, Plane Talking isn’t a bookmaker, and isn’t going to hazard a guess, with emphasis on the word ‘hazard’. But readers will see the UK stories and ask the question about the airlines where they live, since the list is primarily concerned with European carriers but is offering 20:1 on Qantas, compared to 11:1 for British Airways going broke, which is ridiculous given the financial strength of the former and the rather appalling state of affairs at the latter.

This is the Paddy Power list as emailed to me by Mike Clayton, an aviation fanatic who not only knows the life history of every BAe 146 ever made, but has a wicked sense of humour.

4/1 Monarch

11/2 Wizz Air

11/2 Finnair

13/2 Malev

9/1 Aer Arann

10/1 Spanair

10/1 Jet2

11/1 British Airways

14/1 Aer Lingus

14/1 Thomson Airways

16/1 Vueling Airlines

18/1 Bmibaby

20/1 Qantas

20/1 Air Berlin

25/1 Scandinavian airlines

33/1 United Airlines

33/1 Aegean Airlines

33/1 Air One

40/1 Thomas Cook Airlines

40/1 Germanwings

40/1 Flybe

50/1 LOT

50/1 JetBlue

66/1 Czech Airlines

80/1 easyJet

80/1 Virgin Atlantic

80/1 Ryanair

100/1 Lufthansa

100/1 Air France-KLM

100/1 Aeroflot

100/1 Turkish Airlines

100/1 Singapore Airlines

500/1 Vatican Airlines

1000/1 Air Force One

The notion of betting on business failures is up there in terms of taste and sensitivity with framing the odds on which celebrity will die next, which soccer official will get busted for game rigging, or which managed fund in Australia is next to plunder its clients into oblivion, and so forth. Not really funny.

But let’s focus a bit. The only sure fire way any major airline will go broke here is if it loses customers faster than it can retrench staff, park jets, surrender leases or otherwise deal with an economic or social upheaval so severe that its closure will struggle to make it into the first half of any newspaper left publishing, or the top 10 stories of any digital or broadcast media still in business.

We are talking about something as catastrophic as a huge east coast tsunami, or the levelling of a capital city by a massive earthquake. No one is going to even think about the fate of Qantas or Virgin Blue.

When the fuel crisis preceded the GFC the airlines contemplated some extreme scenarios in their uncertainty as what the future held, and in varying degrees, pegged back their flying.

If the global economy falls into a pit in the New Year the airlines will look at drastic action again. And if airlines shut down rather than go broke Paddy Power may well not pay. It’s one thing to go broke, and another to stop flying until the storm passes.

The framing of the actual bet is thus of critical importance. In Australian terms the odds of an airline going broke because of some critical external event that cuts off their revenue completely are the same odds as a snap invasion of the Kimberley and its associated onshore and offshore mineral resources. It’s something that could happen in the next few decades, yet a topic governments pretend doesn’t exist. As could an unexpected bank default in the US trigger a world economic collapse, and send the need for air travel, and a lot of more important goods and services, back to levels last known to our grand parents.

It would be fair to assign the odds of the financial collapse of a major Australian carrier to something higher than those quoted humorously for Air Force One and Vatican Airlines but nowhere near the double digit betting risk of other carriers.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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