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Qantas Puts Pressure on Pilots To Close ‘Project Sunrise’ Deal

A Qantas crew approaches the departure gate at JFK Airport. (Photo: Vincenzo Pace)

Qantas has reportedly advised its pilots that it will create a “new employment entity” to crew its planned ultra-long-haul flights from the east coast of Australia to London if it fails to reach an agreement with the pilots union in the next few weeks.

The airline and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) are currently deadlocked in talks to negotiate remuneration for pilots undertaking the ‘Project Sunrise’ flights from Sydney or Melbourne non-stop to the U.K. from 2023.

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted from an email sent to pilots by Qantas International chief executive Tino La Spina which said the option of creating a new pilot group was “not our preferred option.”

La Spina advised the airline’s pilots that it is seeking a resolution that “can provide the cost base we need for this important business opportunity.” According to an analysis reported in the Financial Review, the “Project Sunrise flights could give Qantas an additional USD$121 million in pre-tax profit in the 2025 financial year with an expected premium-heavy configured Airbus A350-1000.”

President of AIPA Mark Sedgwick replied to Las Spina’s e-mail by saying that “such unnecessary threats will, unfortunately, precipitate a new low in employee engagement at Qantas. Project Sunrise involves multiple safety and regulatory issues that AIPA on behalf of pilots has been working through.”

Qantas is citing an impending March 31 deadline with Airbus as a rationale for seeking immediate resolution of the pilot remuneration issue. La Spina’s e-mail also made clear the importance of Project Sunrise to the airline’s future as “something that our international business needs to maximize its long-term success and defend its competitive position.”

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce boarding Qantas flight QF7879 nonstop from New York to Sydney. (Photo: Tom Pallini)

Sedgwick responded that “the approach that Qantas is now showing publicly has been a characteristic of these discussions and shows how this business would apparently prefer ultimatums at this critical juncture to building consensus.”

Qantas undertook three ‘Project Sunrise’ test flights with Boeing 787-9 last year before settling on the A350-1000 as its ultra-long-haul aircraft. Qantas’ trans-Tasman rival Air New Zealand has also been negotiating with its crew on ultra-long-haul flying arrangements as it launches its Auckland-New York (Newark) flights in October, subject to attaining the necessary regulatory approvals.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John has held the positions of course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and has been a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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