Qantas CEO Alan Joyce's much-vaunted three year transformation program is on track to write up $2 billion in savings and benefits by the middle of next year as the airline prepares to take delivery of its first Boeing 787.
It'd be a timely segue into the 'post-transformation' era, except that Joyce says the process of transforming Qantas into a lean and sharply competitive airline isn't about to hit a hard stop.
"I don't think you can ever stop transforming in this industry" Joyce told Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the launch of new uniforms for the airline's almost 3,000 domestic and international pilots.
That uniform caps off the 2013 debut of the current uniform for cabin crew and ground staff, and is not only the first new uniform for pilots since 2003 but also the first with an outfit designed especially for female pilots.
"We have the accelerated transformation program, and next year is the last year of that, and then post that we'll continue to change and update the business."
"The next biggest opportunity we will have will be the Boeing 787s and the opportunities they create" Joyce said, adding that "in itself that aircraft represents a transformation in new long routes" as well as lower operating costs driven by the Dreamliner's fuel efficiency.
Qantas has eight of the next-generation Boeing 787-9s on order, with the first due in late 2017, but with 15 purchase options and 30 purchase rights up its sleeve and plans to eventually replace its older Boeing 747s and Airbus A330s, there's little doubt that additional and larger Dreamliner purchases are waiting in the wings.
And the timing couldn't be better, Joyce says, as Qantas continues its climb towards the largest turnaround in Australian corporate history.
"I think Qantas is in probably the best position I have seen for a long time" Joyce says, "thanks to the hard work by all of our people – we owe credit to everybody in the company about what they've achieved."
The airline is enjoying an unprecedented set of tailwinds, with the results of its cost-cutting program bolstered by continued low fuel prices, although this year will see a measured drawdown on domestic capacity due to softer demand.
"What's happening now is that everything is coming together at the same time, which is great."
"Our financial results for 2015 were the best we've ever had, we're giving returns back to the shareholders, our customer ratings are the best they've ever been, and our engagement with our people is the best it's ever been. We're now investing in (our pilots) with new uniforms and in recruitment of pilots for the Boeing 787s."
Not cutting back at the coalface
Notable in the transformation plan, Joyce calls out, is that at the same time costs were being shaved throughout the sprawling Qantas business empire there was an increased focus on the coalface of passenger experience.
"All the way through the tough times we continued to invest – some of the decisions like the new LA lounges and the new seats on the A330s, they were all decisions made at the really tough times, so we never really stopped investing."
"I don't think you can stop that investment in the bad times, it has to be consistent and it will pay dividends at the right time."
Qantas is close to completing the upgrade of its Airbus A330 fleet to the new Business Suite business class seating, with only one more A330-300 to go under the knife while the remaining eight A330-200s will be refitted before the year is out.
On the lounge front, the back end of this year will see the opening of new domestic and international lounges at Brisbane Airport, including an all-new international 'premium' lounge combining the current first and business class spaces.
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