Qantas pilots fume over move to fly Australian planes with Kiwi crew

Qantas pilots are up in arms over the airline's plans to fly Australian aircraft with lower-paid pilots employed by a subsidiary in New Zealand.

The airline will operate extra flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and Auckland from March next year when its code-share partner Emirates reduces its A380 trans-Tasman services.

Qantas will convert seven Boeing 737 aircraft it has registered in New Zealand through its subsidiary Jetconnect to its Qantas' Australian operating licence.

But pilots employed in New Zealand by Jetconnect will continue to fly those Australian registered planes - the first time Qantas' has regularly used foreign employed pilots on local aircraft.

While Qantas says Jetconnect pilots will only fly the same trans-Tasman routes they do today, the move has riled the airline's pilots union, which says Qantas is shifting to a model of using overseas crews working on lower pay and worse conditions than their Australian counterparts.

"This is not dissimilar to the Ryanair or Norwegian [Airlines] models that deploy contract crew, on varying conditions in bases around their network," Australian and International Pilots Association president Captain Murray Butt wrote in a letter sent to members.

"The Americans and Europeans have fought long and hard against this model and we must guard against its emergence in Qantas."

AIPA declined to comment further while it continues to negotiate with Qantas over the issue.

Jetconnect, which employs about 120 pilots and operates all Qantas' trans-Tasman flights, has long been a bone of contention between Qantas and APIA.

The union dragged the airline to the Fair Work Commission in 2009 to argue Qantas was using "sham contracting" by employing pilots through Jetconnect and paying them about 30 per cent less than Qantas pilots.

The ACTU became involved in the dispute, saying it was a test case that could set a precedent on companies setting up overseas shells to send work offshore. But the industrial umpire ruled in a two-to-one decisions that Qantas' use of Jetconnect was legitimate.

Qantas spokesman Andrew McGinnes said Jetconnect pilots would only fly the same routes they do today, and would not fly domestically in Australia or on international routes other than across the Tasman.

Changing the registration of its 737 to Qantas' Australian Air Operators Certificate would mean Qantas could run a more efficient schedule.

"By registering these aircraft in Australia instead, we could make much better use of this down time by flying domestic sectors in between flying to New Zealand," Mr McGinnes said.

"Ultimately, these changes increase the amount of flying Australian pilots can do because we have more Australian-registered aircraft."

He said Qantas was continuing to liaise with Qantas and Jetconnect pilots about the changes.

Keith Tonkin, general manager of industry consultancy Aviation Projects, said Qantas pilots would be concerned that the airline's move could open the door to greater use of off-shore labour in the future.

"There's always a concern that one thing could lead to another - that more pilots from New Zealand are operating aircraft registered in Australia, and that means that pilots who live in Australia and who are trained in Australia may miss out on jobs," Mr Tonkin, who is a former Qantas pilot, said.

Jetconnect pilots will have to undergo a short conversion course before they can fly the Australian-registered 737s.

patrick.hatch@fairfaxmedia.com.au

This story Qantas pilots fume over move to fly Australian planes with Kiwi crew first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.