Poor old Qantas. A once great airline is about to get into bed with Emirates, a strong and powerful competitor which has shown Qantas a thing or two about successfully running an airline.
For some, it’s a case of the old saying “if you can’t beat them, join them”. For others, it’s just the end result of a repeated failure by Qantas to respond in a smart and timely manner to the ever-changing international aviation market.
So how did Qantas get into its current state? Well, it’s a long story but there are a number of recurring themes. First, Qantas has repeatedly failed to respond to the international aviation market in a manner that allows it to get ahead of its competitors. While the emergence of Emirates and Etihad was changing the landscape, Qantas didn’t really know how to respond. For years Qantas was happy to stick by its “oneworld” alliance anchored by British Airways and American Airlines.
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We live in a time where we can ask our phones questions and they can answer them. So why can’t robotic planes fly us around?
The director of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation at the Queensland University of Technology, Dr Duncan Campbell, is projecting that freight planes will be flying around Australia without pilots in the cockpit in the next decade. “There’ll still always be a human in the loop, although it might be more like a mission commander on the ground rather than a pilot,” Dr Campbell said.
You can imagine passenger planes wouldn’t be too far behind. Dr Campbell speculated to The Punch yesterday they might take another decade or more to start appearing—if people were comfortable with them, that is.
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Planes. Science* says that a little while after you board one your brain becomes infected by several of the following thoughts… (At least if you’re one of us plebs in cattle class).
1. I wish I had an aisle seat.
2. Hmmmmm, wonder if the pasta’s gonna be less shitty than the chicken…
3. Look at that guy. Stretching out in that spacious aisle seat, while I’m crammed between Sniffaluppagus and a nine-month-old squealaholic.
4. Why does that guy smell that much?
5. There’s just going to be a little turbulence? What does that mean?! I don’t want to die!
6. And the thought which is a combination of all of the above: “Just. Get. Me. The Hell. Off.”
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Would you fly on this plane? The good-as-new Nancy Bird-Walton touched down in Sydney yesterday, ready once again to ferry passengers around the world. Qantas boss Alan Joyce reckons people will have no worries about hopping onboard this particular flying kangaroo. Do you share his optimism?
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is that this was a new plane with a minor fault (a faulty oil pipe) which nearly caused a major crash. Not good. Alternatively, you could argue that it’s pretty damn amazing that the plane was able to land considering it suffered a pierced wing, punctured fuel tanks and wiring and hydraulics damage.
What say you about this and all other things that happened on the weekend? Anything else grabbed your attention?
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A genuine American war ace who did his greatest fighting 70 years ago over the skies of Darwin has passed away in California at the age of 95.
Colonel James Morehead played a crucial role in the defence of Australia, and proved with his courage that formations of the feared AM6 Mitsubishi Zeros and long-range bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy were not invincible.
He ended the war having shot down eight enemy planes, most of them off Darwin, flying in P-40s. These planes, the ones famously painted with shark teeth, were hopelessly outclassed by the faster and in all ways superior Zeros.
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When Alan Joyce wakes up every morning, there is always the slim chance that several hundred people travelling in a metal tube branded with the Qantas insignia will have plummeted thousands of feet to their doom.
The CEOs of the Big Four Banks don’t have that problem. They fear falls of a less lethal kind. Wall Street plunges don’t kill. And unlike plane wrecks, there is always the chance of a rebound.
This might seem a dramatically ghoulish way to portray the inherent risks of two fundamentally different businesses, but it’s worth considering in light of Qantas’s paltry net profit of $43 million in the six months to December. Compare that to the $3 billion or so of the major banks and it’s like a Cessna to an A380.
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Commercial aviation is the safest form of travel because the industry has learnt from past accidents by abolishing the culture of blame.
The Costa Concordia disaster is the cruise ship industry’s chance to improve safety and ensure that avoidable tragedy never happens again, but that chance will be missed if only one man pays the price.
In Italian courtrooms there is a sign which suggests: La legge e’ uguale per tutti – the law is the same for everyone. There is no asterisk on the sign, though it should be noted the term “everyone: does in fact mean “everyone except some”, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who conveniently changed the law while in office to spare himself prosecution, and, more recently, the captain of the Costa Concordia Francesco Schettino, who shall be afforded no such privilege.
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The spirit of Australia was sunk for a little under two days at the end of October. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce grounded the entire Qantas fleet in a bid to end industrial action from Qantas pilots, engineers and ground staff.
Staff were up in arms over the national carrier’s plans to refocus the business on Asia, which would cost around 1000 jobs here in Australia. Staff were also up in arms about pay and job security.
What happened next
Tens of thousands of domestic and international travellers found themselves stranded in unfamiliar cities. When The Herald-Sun asked one irate Qantas passenger who was stranded in Singapore what he’d do if he ran into Alan Joyce, he said: “I’d punch him. I wouldn’t treat a dog the way he’s treated us.”
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A month or so ago an electrical storm over Melbourne had my 2.30pm flight from Sydney in all sorts of trouble. After two bouts of circling, a diversion to Canberra and a compulsory park on the tarmac long enough to watch a film, we finally disembarked at 9.20pm.
We had just spent the equivalent amount of time on that plane as a flight to Jakarta.
You can perhaps put this down to the normal vagaries of flying. But when you add in an industrial campaign and a twitchy company, it is fair to say that recently Australian flyers, or at least those who frequent the flying kangaroo, have tapped a rich vein of material for their almanac of aeroplane war stories.
How would you feel if you were the Qantas CEO and people were telling you loudly that they loved Virgin Australia as you were walking through the airport? For some, Alan Joyce is a hero for taking on the unions, but for others he is a person who should hear firsthand the distress suffered by those Qantas passengers stranded during the shutdown he ordered.
Sadly, the debate for many has become centred on a particular individual. The CEO of a company should command wide ranging respect from all the company’s stakeholders. It’s certainly not enough to be loved by your management peers at other companies. They’re only good for giving you a new job if you leave the old one because you have lost the moral authority to succeed in your current position.
History will judge Alan Joyce as a CEO, but in the meantime Qantas management must stand collectively in being fully accountable for their recent decisions and for presenting a vision to get Qantas back on track as the great iconic company that it has been.
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An industrial dispute has two sides – employer and employee. The Qantas dispute had a very important third side – the innocent travelling public. How they see the dispute, and which side they blame, will be important in the backwash.
If they blame Qantas, the airline will have problems regaining, let alone improving, its share of the market. If they blame the unions, Qantas will have a strengthened bargaining position.
Did Qantas have any alternative to the extraordinary decision to ground the fleet? It was facing continuous scattergun strikes, and the unions involved were not showing any intention to try to come to a compromise. The grounding tactic was clever, in that it forced the government to bring Fair Work Australia into the game, with the result that the guerilla strikes were ended.
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Much of the public commentary around the Qantas dispute has been so undergraduate that you would think it had been authored by the people at Occupy Wall Street. But it is Qantas itself which invited much of the negative coverage by not thinking through its tactics last week ahead of the dramatic events of the weekend.
This dispute has at its centre a pretty simple question – does Qantas management have the right to manage Qantas? Or should Tony Sheldon from the Transport Workers Union have veto power over everything from how many staff the airline employs, when and where its aircraft hangars are built, who maintains its fleet, to whether it is allowed to expand into Asia?
I am not an aviation writer but at a guess I would say that as a former senior executive at Aer Lingus and the successfully expansionist boss of the fledgling airline Jetstar, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce knows a bit more about running airlines than Tony Sheldon.
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In this great age of cheap flights and package holidays, we’re all travellers. We’re on life’s journey, seeking our destinations and finding ourselves along the way.
The mere mention of travel should conjure images of the well-to-do, flitting off around the globe, sipping cocktails in first class, and then floating through immigration to a waiting limousine, all the while looking as if they’ve just stepped out of a salon. Or at least that’s what travel companies want us to believe.
All too often, reality falls short. There are delays, screaming babies, long queues, security checks (my belt doesn’t usually “go off”), cancellations and airplane food. And that’s before you arrive. You deplane to find the air conditioning in the arrival hall is dead, only two of the fifteen customs booths are staffed and you smell like a nightclub in the daylight.
“There Is No Alternative” was a favourite line of Margaret Thatcher’s whenever she was trying to push one of her ideas on to the public.
The “TINA” philosophy has become part of the armoury of governments, big corporations, and others who want to convince us that we are naïve, ill-informed or stupid when we try and question the wisdom of their decisions.
Qantas is the latest example of a major company trying to convince us that There Is No Alternative to its plans to shift its operations offshore, and to cut about 1000 jobs here in Australia.
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.
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Reading the massive Qantas wraparound ads in the papers yesterday, you could be excused for thinking Qantas was set to employ 11 year old junior lifeguards as cabin crew.
The spin-heavy ad campaign had the tagline “There’s a new spirit”, and was a backdrop to the announcement that Qantas would restructure itself by cutting 1,000 of its 35,000 staff, while also peparing to set up a new premium service in Asia.
Qantas has long relied on the feelgood factor in its marketing. You know that fantastic feeling when you touch down at an Australian airport after a trip overseas? Qantas has successfully bottled and sold that emotion. It’s our country. Our airline. You bloody beauty. Last night, however, many people voiced concerns that our airline was slipping away. And boy, did Qantas CEO Alan Joyce come out swinging in its defence.
Yesterday, we had a lively discussion in The Punch office. The following is what the fly on the wall heard…
Ant: What’s this story you’re thinking about re babies on planes, T?
Tory: Malaysia Airlines are banning kids in first class and I reckon it’s a brilliant idea. I wish I had the money to fly first class, and now there’s one more reason. I’m always the passenger who ends up next to the screaming baby which means I arrive somewhere tired and pissed off when I’m meant to be enjoying my holiday
Ant: You’re aware that babies are human beings with every right to be on a plane, right?
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To fly, or not to fly, that is the question/Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of disgruntled travellers/Or to take flight against a sky of troubles/And by opposing, end them?
Like Hamlet, airlines face a lose-lose situation. Do they cancel flights at the expense of customer good will or risk planes falling out of the sky from catastrophic engine failure? Because, let’s be honest here, there are no good plane crashes.
In June 1982, Capt Eric Moody and his crew were flying from Kuala Lumpur to Perth when all four engines on their British Airways jumbo jet failed. Without knowing it, they’d flown into a volcanic ash cloud. For the next 13 minutes, the lives of the 248 passengers and 15 crew were in the balance. Without engines, they were ditching into the sea. That they restarted the engines and saved 268 lives is well known and dramatised on TV shows. But what if the outcome was different?
The whole airline business is built on insanely small margins. So it’s hardly a surprise to learn overnight that Jetstar makes its pittance of a profit not from ticket sales but from the sale of muffins and other “food” on board.
Note the inverted commas around the word food. As American satirist Dave Barry once said: “Airline food is not intended for human consumption. It’s intended as a form of in-flight entertainment, wherein the object is to guess what it is, starting with broad categories such as ‘mineral’ and ‘linoleum’.”
Overpriced food aside, Australian budget airlines are not all that bad. Sure, Jetstar’s a bit bogan and Virgin Blue’s a bit like a branch of the Church of the Almighty Cult of His Supreme Hipness Richard Branson. But mostly, they’re OK.
Soaring fuel costs are driving airlines to come up with increasingly novel, and amusing, ways of lightening their loads.
There have been reports of the carriers washing their planes more often to reduce drag, cleaning cabins of dropped coins and cutlery, and even pondering the use of thinner paper in their in-flight magazines to drop weight.
But it’s pretty clear they’re ignoring the elephant in the aircraft here: Fat customers.
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By now there should be a persistent warning light flashing in the cockpit of the good ship Qantas. It’s indicating that a large mass of brand confidence among the Australian public is smouldering strongly, emitting smoke and may be about to drop off the starboard wing into the sea.
It used to be welded on but there’s definitely a crack appearing.
This week at Auspoll we thought it would be fascinating to test whether the recent run of technical problems which have plagued the Flying Kangaroo have made any tangible dent in our perception of the airline’s hitherto ‘safe as houses’ image. And it set the red light flashing.
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The “Spruce Goose” one of the world’s largest planes (designed by US millionaire Howard Hughes) took to the sky for the first and last time, today in 1947.
And it’s Tuesday at The Punch. What’s on your mind (and what horse are you backing)? Share it all here.
Could Australian air travel be affected by a similar event to the volcanic eruption in Iceland which shut Europe’s skies? The short answer is yes.
While it’s unlikely domestic flights could be severely affected, beneath the aviation corridors linking Australia to Asia and Europe lies Indonesia, which has more active volcanoes than any other country. A cataclysmic eruption there would cause major disruption to international air traffic, and tourism and some trade as a result.
Darwin is home to one of nine global ash monitoring centres which track volcano activity and advise airlines on current risks around the world. The Bureau of Meteorology specialist who runs it, Dr Andrew Tupper, says it is “virtually impossible to fly in and out of Australia without going over volcanic activity”.
Next year, airlines plan to charge passengers to breathe.
It will be 36c for a short, sharp breath – the type taken by those who fear flying – and 54c per deep inhalation, for those who excise that fear through meditation.
All that oxygen pumped into the cabin costs money. And the less you breathe, the less it costs cash-strapped airlines – many of which are on the brink of bankruptcy.
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“PLANE NOISY” yells the front page of my local paper this week, over yet another story based on the gripes of semi-professional aircraft noise complainers whose persistent whining is vastly more annoying than the rumbles of the jets to which they object.
Aircraft noise is a hot backyard political issue in many Australian towns and cities – notably Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. It helped Kevin Rudd build his political profile in his Brisbane electorate. But the attention it gets is thanks to the efforts of coalitions of obsessives whose biggest problem, as far as I can see, is they cannot find the remote to turn up the volume on their TVs and forget about it.
Well, welcome aboard passengers, to our short flight today to Give It A Rest. If you take a look at the card in the seat-back in front of you, you’ll find instructions for selling your house and moving to a suburb that’s not under the flight path.
When Virgin Blue finally announced that John Borghetti would take the reins of the airline in May, the only question was why they took so long to arrive at this no-brainer.
Virgin Blue’s search for a new chief executive has, for the past five or so months, been the same story written one hundred different ways. Borghetti, initially seen by pundits as the Cinderella for the discount carrier’s slipper, fell quickly out of contention in late 2009 after the Board seemed to keep the search rolling despite his availability. They kept us all off the scent with remarkable ease.
And why should anyone care? Well the company has never had a change of CEO since co-founder Brett Godfrey took the helm from the get-go in 2000. Despite ten years of very impressive growth, Virgin Blue has up to fairly recently been somewhat of a poor cousin to the far larger Qantas and lacking the ultra-cheap cost structure of Jetstar.
What is it about air travel that evokes in people such morbid fascination?
In his recent essay, A Week at the Airport, philosopher Alain de Botton reckoned that, basically, we’re all both petrified of, and obsessed by, air travel because our various religions have successfully instilled in us a prevailing awe of the skies, of the heavens and of whatever else goes on above the clouds:
“Despite its seeming mundanity, the ritual of flying remains indelibly linked, even in secular times, to the momentous themes of existence. We have heard about too many ascensions, too many voices from heaven, too many airborne angels and saints to ever be able to regard the business of flight from an entirely pedestrian perspective, as we might, say, the act of travelling by train.”
Next week I’m headed to Japan for a two week break. I tell you this not because I think you have any particular interest in my holiday plans, but because I suspect I’m flying on the same Jetstar plane that had a blackout on the way back from Japan a couple of weeks ago.
For those who haven’t heard this story, the Herald-Sun reported today that a Jetstar plane had an instrument blackout during flight from Japan to the Gold Coast last week as it flew through storm clouds. The problems that affected the airspeed indicators on the Jestar Airbus 330-200 were similar to those reported by the Air France pilot of a similar 330-200 before the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all on board.
No sooner had I finished reading this story with a mix of novelty (hey that’s my flight) and horror (oh my God that’s my flight) did I read about the stuff up on a Melbourne to Sydney QANTAS flight.
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