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Saturday, 8 June 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

When it comes to my nations' "national carrier" (whatever that means these days), I've tried not to disparage Qantas just for the sake of it. But sometimes I just don't understand things.

This week social media was abuzz with Qantas's announcement of its' 250 Boeing aircraft, which they all seem to think is a big deal. Once upon a time, we all thought the price of petrol reaching $1.00/litre was  big deal too.

An interesting Qantas/Boeing partnership timeline was then presented (click here) which starts off with references to DC-3's & De Havilland aircraft, because "both companies eventually became part of Boeing". Somehow I don't think both aircraft were still in production when that occurred. It also doesn't mention that Boeing only owned De Havilland for 6 years, lost a billion dollars on it, before selling it to Bombardier in 1992.

Both the timeline, & the press statement from CEO Alan Joyce, continue to remind us that Qantas invented Business Class in the glory days of the late 1970's. Unfortunately they didn't patent it & many other airlines have certainly perfected it. The repetitive crowing of their great achievement nearly 35 years ago reminds me of the Barry Manilow song where Lola is still sitting at the bar of the Copacabana, still wearing the same dress she wore 30 years ago when she was a showgirl. She's lost her youth & she's lost her Tony, now she's lost her mind. Qantas may well be feeling the same way.

IN: A "Qantas Boeing" DC-9
And then the timeline brings in Australia's then-Government owned domestic airline, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), which was later re-branded as just Australian Airlines. TAA/Australian operated B727 & B737-300 aircraft, as well as Douglas DC-9's which are also reportedly included in the tally. This was when Douglas was still Douglas/MDC, & DC-9's were still DC-9's, not B717's! 

TAA/Australian itself was never in fact Qantas. At best, the two airlines could be described as "brothers". Both were wholly owned by the Commonwealth Government of Australia; Qantas did the international duties with an all-B747 fleet, whilst TAA/Australian was the domestic airline. Although there was the occasional bit of plane-swapping from time to time, the two airlines were completely separate of each other. It was only for reasons of economic rationalism (ie, privatisation), that TAA was absorbed into Qantas, before the combined package was then sold off.

OUT: A "not-Qantas-enough" B717
But whilst the Douglas DC-9's of a different airline are included in the list, according to Australian Aviation magazine, the tally doesn't include actual Boeing 717's in Qantas colours operated by Qantas subcontractor Cobham Aviation Services. It seems the definition of what is a Qantas Boeing aircraft over time & what isn't is a bit wibbly-wobbly.

And just to make matters a bit more confusing, despite being pictured & mentioned on the timeline, Australian Aviation magazine also reports that the list actually doesn't include the DC-3's. Go figure.

The timeline finishes with mention of the proud pending arrival of the B787 Dreamliner, the first of which will be operated by Qantas LCC subsidiary Jetstar. And whilst the press release thanks Boeing for their support, & Qantas pledges their "continued strong partnership", it seems that Boeing just had to cop it on the chin when Qantas cancelled 35 of their 85 Dreamliners ordered, including many which occupied early production slots reserved by Boeing for Qantas, which was a big deal-sweetener at the time of the order. Just as sweet for Qantas is the compensation payments it now receives from Boeing for delays in the delivery of the remaining 50.

The mothership. Definitely not a Boeing
Regardless of how many Boeing aircraft Qantas has received over the decades, I'm just left wondering what it's all actually supposed to prove. It's true that Boeing make good planes. In the days of the B707 & early B747 models, Boeing was the only maker of planes that could connect our isolated country with much of the rest of the world. Since then, Qantas is also happy to use Airbus A330 & A380 aircraft, the latter proudly now occupying the coveted "flagship" position. Qantas is happy to fleet out Jetstar in A320's & A330's, whilst I'm sure Boeing regards Virgin Australia as an important customer too, operating B737 aircraft as well as the only Australian B777 operator. Qantas rejected the B777 on the basis that it was too little capacity for LA & London, whilst too much for much of Asia. VA chose it in preference to the A340. I'm happy to respect Qantas's decision, but you only have to sit & watch the comings & goings on SYD 34L to see that many of the worlds airlines also have no problem bringing B777's to & from Australia every day.

At the end of the day, Qantas's orders over the years are relatively small compared to some other airlines, particularly the big US airlines. And more to the point, Boeing salesmen would run over their grandmothers to sell planes to anyone, anywhere.

So hooray for Qantas, hooray for Boeing, & thank Heavens for Airbus.

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