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Ocker Airways

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 29 August 2011


Qantas is on the cusp of, at best, reverting to a purely domestic airline or, at worst, going broke. The current CEO, Allan Joyce, was handed a poison chalice when he took on the job.

Faced with falling revenues, despite monopoly or duopoly rights on most long haul routes, the previous CEO, Geoff Dixon, sought to bully staff, shareholders and the travelling public into accepting a deal that would have seen a leveraged buyout of the airline. A buyout that would have seen the airline go offshore to Shanghai or Beijing.

The deal was a product of the over-heated financial markets pre the GFC. It was proposed at the height of the private equity boom. Some saw the deal as smoke and mirrors, but clearly not Dixon and the Board of Qantas, many of whom are still serving.

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The proposed arrangement collapsed, allegedly because a US based hedge fund manager failed to submit his acceptance in time. Analysts claim that had the deal gone ahead Qantas would have collapsed in 2009 under the weight of debt and a collapsing cash flow.

Announcing another smoke and mirrors deal Joyce has told the market and customers that Qantas is still labouring under debt and that the dubious proposals announced to move offshore will clear this problem for shareholders.

Really! It is unlikely that abandoning Australia will reverse the fortunes of Qantas. Where is the money coming from to fund the off-shore airline based somewhere in the region with, we are told, a proposal to buy new aircrafts?

Joyce could talk the leg off an iron pot. The blarney flows without the apparent interruption or check of intellect. Joyce gives off an air of desperation; the need to create the impression of future success. Is this being done so that he can apply for other corporate opportunities?

Qantas is in a tail spin and no one is giving the crew clear instructions as to what is going on, what they should do or what they might be able to do to help avoid a prang.

Retired General Cosgrove is on the board. Surely he appreciates the need to look after the troops, keep them fully informed and maintain morale if the airline is to deliver the standard of service expected? After all it has been the staff of Qantas that has maintained the brand and the faith of the travelling Australian public in the airline.

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I started flying commercially in the 1950's, first on DC 3's then DC 4's, Viking's, DC 6B's, and so on. In flight service was service; nothing very flash, but pleasant and courteous.

Subsequently I would have flown around million kilometres or more on a range of airlines, many no longer operating. I have flown into Afghanistan in the 1980's when Indian Airlines flew on a wing tip from 6,000 metres to the ground in order to avoid stinger missiles and I have flown in Africa when aircraft safety standards were not as high as they are today.

About four years ago I decided that I would not fly Qantas again, on grounds of safety and service.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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