Qantas boss Alan Joyce is flying high, having turned around his airline’s fortunes over the past few years.
Now, Australia’s highest-paid chief executive has hinted that Qantas could help lift Boeing by buying a fleet of its scandal-plagued 737 MAX planes – but only if the price is right.
Regulators have kept the 737 MAX planes grounded for nearly a year – despite Boeing’s attempts to rush their return to the air – following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Boeing infamously tried to blame pilot error for the crashes, before a hidden software flaw was found to be responsible.
But Mr Joyce was undeterred by the 737 MAX’s poor track record, revealing that Qantas is considering replacing its ageing fleet of older Boeing 737s with bargain-priced 737 MAXs.
“Qantas itself will put the [MAX] aircraft through its own lens to make sure we’re comfortable with it,” Mr Joyce told Nine newspapers on Monday.
If you look at it from an opportunity point of view, given the aircraft is going to be very safe, what will Boeing do to get the safest airline in the world to buy the aircraft?’’
At first glance it may seem an odd move for the “safest airline in the world” to announce its interest in one of the most deadly passenger planes of recent times.
But aviation experts told The New Daily the comments prove Mr Joyce to be a “shrewd” negotiator and master media manipulator.
The Irishman is “very adept at getting publicity” and keeping the Qantas name “in the public eye, even if nothing much is happening”, Monash University aviation expert and co-author of Up in the Air Greg Bamber said.
“It’s a clever strategy,” Dr Bamber said.
Come out with something controversial like the 737 MAX that most people in the industry don’t want to touch with a bargepole.’’
Mr Joyce’s comments could also help fuel a price war between Boeing and competitor Airbus, to Qantas’s benefit.
“It’s a good negotiating strategy. They can try to get Airbus to offer the A320neo at a cut price or they’ll go to Boeing,” Dr Bamber said.
Airbus have a big order book, but Boeing orders have been evaporating.
“Boeing might well be inclined to offer a bargain-basement price.”
For Qantas, one upside of replacing its “workhorse” domestic fleet of older Boeing 737s with 737 MAXs would be that minimal pilot retraining would be required.
However, going with Boeing over Airbus would be a “high-risk strategy” with the potential to tarnish Qantas’s reputation if further issues with the planes emerge, Dr Bamber said.
“Qantas does have a good reputation for safety, but it’s very easy to lose such a reputation quickly,” he said.
“But the flying public generally have short memories. The major criterion for buying tickets is price and convenience.”
Winning the endorsement of Qantas, or any other major airline, would be a “feather in the cap of Boeing”, Dr Bamber said.
“A lot of the airlines are shying away from the 737 MAX at the moment – they’ve pushed back or stalled orders,” he said.
However, Dr Bamber warned that the 737 MAX is “a flawed aircraft” that “at this point, looks like a lemon”.
“We’re still waiting to see how it will be fixed up,” he said.
There will be some resistance from airlines, pilots, and passengers. They will all be rather sceptical of it for a while, at least until it’s been proven.’’
Airline expert and Point Hacks managing editor Daniel Sciberras described Mr Joyce’s comments as “a shrewd move” that harks back to the turn of the millennium when airlines “took advantage of bargain-basement prices for planes” brought on by a slump in demand following the September 11 attacks.
“They were selling planes in a market where a lot of passengers were too freaked out to fly,” Sciberras said.
“Airlines including Ryanair took advantage, and Alan Joyce is looking to do something similar.
“By the time this [737 MAX] aircraft is rectified for flying, one can assume it will be a very safe plane,” Sciberras said.