While the Qantas pilot association AIPA likes the sentiment of the Alan Joyce petition about capital flowing into Virgin Australia  from its foreign airline shareholders it wants an assurance that any rules changes to allow Qantas similar access to such funding to be directed only to an Australian Qantas and not into ‘unproven overseas ventures’.

Which is shorthand for not blowing any more money on Jetstar ventures in Asia when the Qantas brand in Australia needs it.

The stand announced by the new president of AIPA, Nathan Safe, has not been given any media coverage other than in the Financial Review, so in the interests of the bringing it into the open, this is the statement.

The Australian and International Pilots Association has given its support to amending the Qantas Sale Act, provided that any new foreign investment streams are directed into Australia and not into unproven overseas ventures.

“The current Australian aviation environment has evolved rapidly and AIPA recognises that this necessitates a shift in position. Therefore AIPA is now willing to support amending the Qantas Sale Act (QSA),” said AIPA President Nathan Safe.

“The problem we have at the moment is an un-level playing field: Virgin is free to access foreign investment channels that Qantas cannot due to the restrictions of the QSA. It is therefore clear that the only viable policy approach is for the QSA to be reviewed.

“However, if changes to the QSA are justified to ensure the Australian industry is not disadvantaged against foreign competitors, then it is absolutely vital that any advantages gained through its amendment must flow straight to Qantas’s Australian operations.

“Therefore, AIPA would support changes to the QSA, but only if the foreign investment that flows from those changes is used to invest in Australian aviation and Australian jobs. Under such changes, new streams of foreign investment could not be used on the sort of unproven forays into Asia that we have seen Qantas Group pursue through Jetstar and other subsidiaries in recent years.

“While specific ownership restrictions in the QSA may have become unsuited to the modern environment, the fundamental purpose of the Act – to ensure that the vital economic and social benefits that come from public ownership of national airline are still achieved under private ownership – is as important as ever.

“So if Qantas management is truly seeking changes to the QSA in order to support its local operations, the local economy, and local jobs, then there is no reason that such a caveat should present a problem.

“AIPA will be advancing the benefits of such a legislative change to the federal government. We would encourage all other Qantas stakeholders – including management – to do likewise.

“Of course, AIPA recognises that amendments to the QSA may only be part of a suite of changes required to level the playing field adequately.”

As a matter of public record, the last time pilots had the temerity to urge that Australia based pilots should fly Qantas airliners they were accused of helping to bring the airline to the brink of destruction. It coincided with Qantas being caught flying so called Jetstar cadet pilots to NZ to open bank accounts in that country so that they could be paid under its tax rules and labour conditions for flying Jetstar aircraft in Australia for less money than the Qantas subsidiary’s pilots.

This is the same management that is now asking its employees to rally around the flag, the Australian one, to prevent another Australian airline ‘unfairly’ accessing foreign funds to better compete in Australia against the Qantas that is now in a commercial relationship with the world’s largest state owned airline Emirates.

It may be time for Qantas to clarify what is a good sovereign owned airline, what is a bad sovereign owned airline, and why it opposes its Virgin Australia competitor doing to it what it set out to do in Asia with Jetstar, and failed to do with its still born Asia based Qantas funded single aisle premium airline project variously dubbed Red Q or Asia One.

Could it be that by making any support for the Joyce petition conditional the Qantas pilots have turned it into a referendum  on the airline’s leadership?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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