Qantas shifts 747 maintenance abroad

"Let me clarify that there will be no jobs going offshore - not one."

The words of Qantas CEO Alan Joyce two years ago during a round of redundancies, but more than a thousand job cuts later it has emerged that the Australian flag carrier will be moving heavy maintenance work abroad.

Although that promise was made in relation to redundancies at the time, some Flying Kangaroo workers must be wondering whether their airline’s nickname contains one ’f’ too many.

The airline shut down its Avalon maintenance facility with the loss of up to 300 jobs late last year, and third-party MRO providers in Asia, Europe and the US are being considered for heavy checks on Qantas’ 15 remaining 747s.

Hong Kong-based HAECO will perform the first checks in May, though on an interim basis while Qantas selects a permanent provider.

While Avalon’s closure seemed reasonable given long periods of inactivity there, maintenance unions have disputed Qantas’ assertion that there are no other facilities in Australia – including its Sydney and Brisbane shops – suitable for 747 work.

Unions have also suggested that the move offshore could jeopardise Qantas’ industry-leading reputation for safety, with one member even claiming that a 747 serviced once before at Hong Kong-based HAECO returned with all of its engines incorrectly attached.

Qantas strenuously denies this, and most within the industry will also recognise the unions’ overblown scare tactics for what they are, as safety standards are exceptionally high across almost every MRO operating in the developed world.

Even if safety isn’t diminished, however, what little trust that remained between Qantas and its engineers has surely been exploded by the latest volte face.

Lest one forget, 18 months ago Qantas was accused breaking offshoring pledges when it closed its LQT engine overhaul facility in Tullamarine Victoria. An airline spokeswoman refuted those claims, pointing out that Qantas had only promised not to expatriate heavy maintenance work – weasel words in light of current events.

Despite all this bad behaviour, though, one shouldn’t forget that Qantas’ restructuring of maintenance is probably vital to its survival given the dire financial straits the airline finds itself in.

Such upheavals will always leave some disaffected and hurt employees by the roadside; Qantas’ trail of broken promises, however, is littered with more than most.

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