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Qantas says pilot demands putting airline at risk

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SYDNEY (AFP) – A damaging industrial row between Australian airline Qantas and its pilots could threaten the future of the carrier, chief executive Alan Joyce said.

International pilots on the "Flying Kangaroo" are poised to take their first strike action in 45 years after negotiations on pay and conditions with management broke down last week.

Joyce told ABC television he would not be giving in to all demands from the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) which Qantas estimates would cost more than Aus$300 million (US$320 million).

"We believe that some of the demands that are being put on the table are outrageous," Joyce said late Thursday, adding that they could result in job losses within the company if implemented.

"There are certain demands I cannot concede to because it will endanger the survival of the company into the long run."

Asked whether the airline's future was at risk due to the union action, Joyce replied: "It is at that stage. Our international business is losing money. Our international business, if these demands are met, will go backwards even further."

Joyce said the union's threat of industrial action could also potentially damage the Qantas brand.

"Unfortunately, this is the way some of these rogue union leaders think," he said. "It's not good for their members, it's not good for employees, it's not good for our customers and we're going to have to stand up to them."

The AIPA disputes Qantas' estimate of the cost of the claim, putting the figure at Aus$91 million. It says it's main concern is job security and that pilot jobs are not moved offshore to cheaper hubs in Asia.

"This is not about wages, it's not about money at all, it's about a future for our pilots," the association's Richard Woodward told the ABC.

Qantas has refused to rule out establishing a new international operation based in Asia as it battles rising fuel costs and declining market share on international flights.

"Our market share internationally is down to 18 percent, our market share in Asia is down to 14 percent," Joyce said. "We need to change the business in order for it to be successful."

The industrial row with the pilots comes as Qantas is also negotiating with engineers and other transport workers on new pay and conditions.

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