Qantas is perfectly entitled to spread its wings
If you’re willing to sleep around, don’t be surprised if your partner gives you the cold shoulder.
This week the nation cried foul at the thought of Qantas, our beloved flying kangaroo, shooting through to Asia.
First of all, Qantas hasn’t done a runner. As CEO Alan Joyce says, the company is looking to shed 1000 of its 35,000-strong Australian workforce and establish two news carriers in Asia to increase its global competitiveness.
With Qantas International losing $200m a year, Mr Joyce says “we don’t have the option of pretending that things will change if we stay the same. They won’t”.
And it’s hypocritical for us consumers to feel spurned anyway. We’ve all been cheating on Qantas for years – lured by glowing, pony-tailed Virgins and cheap flights offered by other carriers already enjoying the cost benefits of Asian hubs.
I first flew overseas at the age of eight, to visit my grandparents in Fiji. I’ve still got the coaster and menu from the exotic Qantas Funjet plane, stuck into a highly insightful diary which reads: “I looked out the window and got very dizzy. The plane was going very fast.”
In those days it was Qantas or nothing. Air travel was rare air, a big deal that didn’t occur every other month. The captain was godlike, the ‘flight hostesses’ more like models than waitresses.
These days, though, we catch planes like we used to catch buses. We snare $59 fares and city-hop to watch football. We fly into Asia for long weekends of bargain shopping.
Sure, we love ‘the idea’ of Qantas, our revered national carrier of 90 years. Who didn’t shed a tear when those Qantas kids first stood on Uluru to belt out I still call Australia home?
But money talks. Qantas holds around 65 per cent of the domestic Australian market, but just 18 per cent of us fly out of Australia on Qantas or Jetstar.
And this isn’t about love. It’s all about location: it might hurt a little to admit, but Paul Keating was geographically accurate when he said Australia was at “the arse end of the world”.
Essentially, Qantas needs to fly more people – and not just Australians – to more parts of the planet. To do that it needs to be based in a high density market on a geographical ‘hub’ that allows it to draw simple lines from A to B, C and D.
What better place than Asia, which Mr Joyce says will account for 16 per cent of the world’s middle class within 20 years.
Aviation commentators say the new Qantas route is a risky one. But if the company actually succeeds in making big coin from new international operations, where’s the downside?
What’s more, better performance globally could well lead to better deals locally.
There was certainly a time when national airlines carried the pride of the nation. Back in the 1990s, British Airways caused a furore by replacing its Union Jack tailfins with a series of global motif designs. At the launch of the new look, former British PM Margaret Thatcher used her hanky to cover the tailfin of a model plan, hiding its ‘shame’.
But increasingly deregulated ‘open skies’ have ended all that. The major routes are now fair game to big, cashed-up and perfectly positioned transnational operations. Exhibit A: Emirates. In this environment, Qantas can’t remain constrained to our little corner of the globe.
University of NSW aviation expert (and former Qantas employee) Ian Douglas says Australians should forgo sentimentality over “what in the end is just a transportation company” and take pride in the fact that Qantas is a successful business in one of the world’s most unprofitable industries.
He says lamenting the move by Qantas into Asia is akin to saying “the ANZ Bank shouldn’t open in India or London. Surely we want our Australian businesses to go out into the world and be successful?”
And here’s the best part: Qantas is an Australian-owned company. The profits will still call Australia home
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