MIAMI — When Qantas CEO Alan Joyce pressed the nuclear button in October 2011, locked out staff and shut down the entire airline as part of an ongoing confrontation with trade unions, few could have predicted the shape of Qantas nearly four years later.
The Qantas of 2015 looks quite different to the Qantas of 2011 and earlier. The biggest change is Qantas’ deep strategic partnership with Emirates, and the shakeup of the Red Roo’s European operation to serve only London from Sydney and Melbourne via Dubai rather than operate a wider set of European destinations over Singapore. Other Asian routes too have been slashed, a significant proportion of the airline’s iconic Boeing 747-400 fleet retired, and a Sydney-Auckland-Los Angeles A330 flight cut. In economic terms, the loss-making international operations have at least had the bleeding staunched, although the shock to the system was quite severe.
On leisure-heavy routes domestically, and indeed on some international leisure routes to north Asia, low-cost carrier arm Jetstar has taken over coverage from its full-service parent airline. The added LCC efficiency, which Joyce understands intimately since running Jetstar was his previous job, is a key part of Qantas’ transformation, especially as leverage with legacy staff unions.
Joyce calls it a “hybrid” airline group now:Posts
Emirates’ colossal European network, serving cities over Dubai that an airline of Qantas’ scale could never hope to match, is an enormous benefit for QF, just as Etihad connections over Abu Dhabi are vital for competitor Virgin Australia. The geographical (and Heathrow-related) inconvenience of flying Australia-Singapore-London-Europe under Qantas’ previous strategic partnership with British Airways was as inefficient as it was unpopular, and passengers are even enthusiastic to endure the squeeze of Emirates ten-abreast, 3-4-3 layout Boeing 777 fleet as a tradeoff.
Yet the lighter, tighter Qantas is doubling down on its design credentials. No less than Marc Newson, the designer of the Apple Watch is Qantas’ go-to designer. His iconic Sydney First lounge is holding its own among the best in the world, his weird yet wonderful cutlery is still flying, new lounges in Singapore and Hong Kong are the subject of rave reviews (“sleek, industrial, edgy, and at the same time agreeable”) and his customisation of Thompson Aero’s Vantage XL seats for Qantas’ new A330 business class a significant upgrade of the (also Newson-designed) first-generation 2003 Skybed angled lie-flat seats.
The hipster love for kitschy Australiana has driven popular decisions like the arrival of a retrojet, VH-XZP “James Strong”, late last year. The 2013 unveiling of “Mendoowoorrji”, the latest (and perhaps most understated) of Qantas’ indigenous artwork aircraft, in the best traditions of the earlier trio of Wunala Dreaming, Nalanji Dreaming and Yananyi Dreaming liveries, pleased both aviation enthusiasts and indigenous cultural advocates.
A desperate bloodletting in the domestic market is now over, with Virgin Australia’s push for capacity after its 2010 transformation from Virgin Blue — and the resulting capacity war as Qantas strove to defend its line in the sand of 65 percent market share — now resolved.
With the scars of the 2011-2012 industrial disputes starting to scab over, new aircraft may even be in order for Qantas international, with the Qantas Group holding a full fifty options for Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets that could start delivery in 2017.
An upgrade isn’t as burning an issue for Qantas as it would have been before the turnaround, however: its Airbus A330-300 fleet dates back just over a decade, delivered 2003-2005, while its A330-200 fleet is even newer, with five delivered before 2010 and twelve since, with six arriving just last year and a further one landing this April. The Boeing 747-400ER fleet is similarly spry, delivered in 2002-2003, although the un-ER 747-400 fleet dates back to between 1990 and 2000.
The nine aircraft in the combined 747 fleet are all refitted with fully flat beds in business class (the top offering on board) and the latest premium economy and economy seats as well. And they’re returning to San Francisco as American Airlines frees them up with a daily LAX-Sydney rotation, its first since abandoning LAX-HNL-SYD on a Douglas DC-10 in the early 1990s.
The former Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (whatever you do, don’t spell it “Quantas”) is a fundamentally different airline after Joyce’s reforms. And it’s arguably a better, more efficient one.