Monday, October 31, 2011

Qantas returns to the skies after fleet grounding

Qantas Airways planes returned to the skies Monday after an Australian court ruled on a bitter labor dispute that had prompted the world's 10th-largest airline to ground its entire fleet.

A flight from Sydney to Jakarta, Indonesia, took off shortly after Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority gave the "Flying Kangaroo," as the Australian flag carrier is known, the all-clear to resume flying.

Qantas said in a statement it still expected some delays as it worked to clear the backlog of customers affected by the nearly 48-hour grounding. The airline is adding extra flights and expects its schedule to return to normal within one or two days.

The grounding disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of people across the world, and Qantas passengers were gathering at airports in Australia, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the hopes of finally getting to their destinations.

The airline's resumption of flights comes around 12 hours after an emergency ruling by an arbitration court ended weeks of strikes and canceled a staff lockout.

The court ruling was a major victory in the airline's battle with unions representing pilots, aircraft mechanics, baggage handlers and caterers, whose rolling strikes have forced the cancellation of 600 flights in recent months, disrupted travel for 70,000 passengers and cost Qantas 70 million Australian dollars ($75 million).

But some aviation experts said the surprise grounding of all 108 planes on Saturday, at a cost of $20 million a day, has hurt the Australian flagship carrier's reputation around the world. Moody's Investors Service said it could downgrade the airline's credit ratings as the weekend's events could hurt bookings, profits and the value of the Qantas brand.

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