If there was a functioning government in Canberra this week the Jetstar offshore strategy would demand urgent attention from its transport minister.
The issues are much bigger than Australian registered Jetstar A330s and future squadrons of 787s being based in their dozens in Singapore and flown and maintained by ‘cheap’ labour.
Or non Australian pilots being employed within Australia to fly Jetstar aircraft under lower cost conditions with the inevitable destruction or relocation of jobs or conditions held by pilots, cabin attendants and maintenance and systems engineers in this country.
Seen at its widest context, this is about whether any Australian business should experience total exposure to lower costs and more favourable taxation and depreciation within as well outside of the national borders.
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Taken in the Qantas context it means the purpose and intent of the Qantas Sale Act is now being bypassed, as it never envisaged low cost trans-border franchises like Jetstar, Tiger or Air Asia, nor a situation where the full service Qantas brand struggles to carry one fifth of the international carriage in the Australian market, nor where the full service model, everywhere, has become less profitable than the faster growing mass market low cost models.
The brutal truth is that the act that was supposed to save Qantas will kill it unless it can base jets in places like Singapore or Auckland, or for that matter, anywhere in Indonesia, and cycle them on a daily or short term basis into and out of this country.
It is seen by Qantas as the only way an airline can tap into growth that is unavailable within its own borders, and exploit reduced labour or managerial and taxation costs. The Jetstar bases in Darwin, Cairns and Auckland are conduits for this offshoring and jet cycling strategy.
Even if the next federal government continues the indifference of past administrations to the consequences of globalisation on jobs in Australia there are safety standards issues to consider.
CASA is responsible for the enforcing the laws and compliance with AOC or airline operating certificate conditions of carriers no matter where they base their jets. That they don’t always do this effectively within this country is a scandal often mentioned in Crikey and Plane Talking.
The importation of pilot labour from Asia is not per se a safety hazard. Asian flying has become very, very safe. But there is a risk where different but no less safe procedures are combined within a carrier. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has already drawn attention to the safety implications of Jetstar mixing pilots who go through different training courses, so that a captain might expect a first officer to react in one way to a flight issue, but who will react a different way because he was endorsed by a different school.
Consistency in pilot training and operating procedures is an integral part of airline standards, yet Jetstar will not only have under its plan Australian pilots with differing training experiences but a new body of pilots trained in Asia. Resolving these training issues ought to be a priority of the responsible minister, when one is sworn in.
In the final moments of the election campaign Labor proposed, arguably two decades too late, measures to preserve what’s left of Australian shipping including implementing competitive depreciation schedules. And the opposition proposed turning Australia into a world leader for pilot training.
Both of these policy promises would go a considerable way toward keeping Australian airlines safe, and more Australian, by reducing the financial attractions of sending airline jobs and jets abroad.