Qantas chief Alan Joyce said he has no regrets about ordering the shock grounding of the Australian airline’s entire fleet last year, saying it paved the way for much needed change.
Joyce stunned travellers worldwide on October 29, 2011, when he pulled all Qantas planes out of the skies for 46 hours as part of a labour row with staff over plans to shift the focus of its ailing international arm to Asia.
He said Friday the unprecedented shutdown had made turning the airline’s fortunes around possible, including a new alliance with Emirates designed to stem huge losses on international flights.
If the three months of sporadic strikes by baggage handlers, pilots and engineers’ unions which led to the grounding had been allowed to continue, the airline would not be in the shape it was now, he said.
“If that ’slow bake’ had gone on, there is no doubt everything that has happened this year could not have occurred,” Joyce told The Australian newspaper.
“We would not have had the management bandwith to do the Emirates deal, to sell Star Track Express, to continue to invest in our business, to turn around the on-time performance, or win the corporate market back.”
But Joyce backed away from the possibility of ordering another fleet grounding.
“They were a unique set of circumstances at the time. I don’t think those circumstances will ever come up again,” he told the paper.
The dispute was ultimately terminated by an order of the country’s industrial relations umpire, and cost Qantas some A$194 million (US$200.6 million).
It also created a headache for the government which at the time was hosting world leaders at a Commonwealth summit in the remote western city of Perth.
But Joyce said the airline enjoyed a “solid and professional” relationship with Canberra, which has since supported its Emirates tie-up which will extend beyond code sharing and joint services to coordinated pricing, sales and scheduling.
Joyce said Qantas, which has cut hundreds of jobs since the shutdown and delayed the delivery of several aircraft to slash costs, was going through “the biggest transformation of any public company in Australia”.
“That is never going to be easy,” he said.
Though Qantas’s domestic business is a strong performer, its international arm is struggling with high fuel costs and steep competition, accounting for much of the airline’s A$244 million loss in 2011-12.
The October 2011 grounding affected more than 68,000 passengers on 447 flights and delayed 108 aircraft in 22 cities, frustrating customers at hubs from Europe to Asia and the US.