The tails bearing the logo of the 'Flying Kangaroo' of Qantas are seen at a terminal of Sydney Airport
The tails bearing the logo of the 'Flying Kangaroo' of Qantas are seen at a terminal of Sydney Airport. REUTERS/Will Burgess

Because of financial constraints at Qantas Airways -- Australia's biggest carrier --150 of the company's 2,000 pilots went on unpaid leave.

Many of the pilots asked for time off from the struggling airline. Qantas was losing about 200 million Australian dollars ($207 million) a year on international travel before it cut some of its overseas routes in August, Bloomberg reported, and by 2015 there could be a surplus of 500 grounded pilots.

With respect, they're playing games with young pilots' careers, Australian International Pilots Association President (AIPA) Barry Jackson told MarketWatch. A lot of young guys' prospects of a command post with Qantas are fast disappearing into the horizon with the grace of these partly-owned subsidiaries.

Many of those currently on leave are taking jobs at other airliners, especially Gulf-state carriers, conscripting into long-haul routes for Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways.

“Our young guys are voting with their feet,” Richard Woodward, vice president of the Australian & International Pilots Association, told the financial news outlet. “Because of retrenchment and downsizing, they’re going directly to our competitors, which will exacerbate our problems.”

Qantas and its pilots have had financial disagreements in the past. Last year, pilots protested the airline's decision to put less discretionary fuelinto jets. Discretionary fuel is the reserve fuel that pilots have should they be met with adverse conditions mid-flight. It allows them to circle for longer or to land at airports further away from the destination if need be. It was also an expense that Qantas thought it could use less of.

The AIPA, the trade union for Qantas pilots and engineers, had this to say about the new fuel measures:

The broad-brush policy adopted by Qantas management regarding fuel carriage does not take into account the unique characteristics of individual destinations. For example, the requirements when operating into a single runway non-controlled destination where there is heavy training traffic are entirely different from those when operating into a multi runway-controlled destination.

The fuel decision is made by considering a number of factors and the final order is determined not just by the legal requirements, but by airmanship requirements as well. In the end it may well be the decisions of others that get you into trouble, so why put another hole in the Swiss cheese that doesn’t need to be there?

In 2010, the pilots union also began arbitration with the airline over pay. The government-sponsored talks are still underway.