The union representing engineers at ’ heavy maintenance base is trying to find other alternatives to closing down the facility, but its efforts are not gaining much traction with the airline.
Qantas has been holding discussions with the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) about the future of the maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Avalon Airport, near Melbourne. The carrier held discussions on the issue with the ALAEA in October, and says it will make its decision soon.
The union is expecting Qantas to announce the closure of the Avalon base, and the airline’s previous comments appear to support this conclusion. The main problem is that with the airline’s decision to shrink its 747 fleet, there would be substantial periods with no 747 work at Avalon in coming years.
With the Qantas talks apparently producing no agreement, the ALAEA is revealing details of a proposal it made to the carrier to help offset the declining workload at Avalon. The main element of this is three months pay without leave in 2014, in exchange for a guarantee of employment through 2015. This would apply to the vast majority of the more than 300 workers at Avalon, who are employed through a contractor.
The ALAEA acknowledges that “three months leave without pay is not the total answer” to an expected 44 weeks without scheduled maintenance at Avalon over 2014 and 2015, “but is a substantial start.” Leave programs and training could take up more of the down-time, the union says.
Other work could also be found to fill the “white space” in the Avalon schedule, says the union. For example, it cites unassignedreconfiguration work. And the other Qantas heavy maintenance facility in Brisbane has periods where it will not have enough workers to complete planned work on other aircraft types. Some of this work could be shipped to Avalon, or Avalon staff could be sent to Brisbane, the union says.
ALAEA Federal Secretary Steve Purvinas tells Aviation Week that the union will be releasing more details about the airline’s maintenance plans on Nov. 6. This will likely to include specifics on how much other work could potentially be transferred to Avalon.
“Qantas has so much work in Brisbane that they are hundreds of staff short,” Purvinas says. “This work should be taken from Brisbane and used to plug white space [at Avalon].” He notes that Avalon is capable of working on, “and has [done so] intermittently over the years.”
By taking excess Brisbane tasks, the ALAEA believes the periods without maintenance work at Avalon could be reduced to four weeks over two years, says Purvinas. However, the union would still allow Qantas to use the leave without pay option if needed.
Qantas, meanwhile, says that it has spent six weeks “looking in detail at all options to address the shortfall of maintenance,” including the ALAEA plan involving leave without pay. However, the carrier notes that “in assessing the ALAEA’s proposal, we are faced with the question of how this solves the problem that there is no work in the hangar for around five months each year for the next four years.”
“The [Avalon] facility has become sub-scale because of the gradual retirement of our747 fleet which [is] being replaced by new aircraft which require less maintenance,” Qantas says. “No business could afford to ignore these realities.”
Qantas has previously indicated that it wants to eventually streamline its heavy maintenance activities to one facility, and it appears that Brisbane is the favored location. Another heavy maintenance base, the Tullamarine facility at Melbourne Airport, was closed in 2012.