British Airways is facing another round of cabin crew strikes next month. Rather than facing scores of canceled flights and thousands of displaced customers, however, the company is looking at options to replace the BA-operated flights with those of a partner airline: Qatar Airways. The company applied for permission from the CAA to have the wet-leased (i.e. cabin and flight crew are from Qatar Airways, too, not just the planes) planes operate on BA’s behalf for at least the span of the initial strike window, and possibly longer. From the CAA filing:
British Airways Plc applied on 21 June 2017 to wet lease nine Qatar registered Airbus A320 or A321 aircraft, registrations to be advised, between 1 and 16 July 2017, and for additional periods, yet to be defined, for a maximum of two months.
The application has been made on the grounds that the lease is justified on the basis of exceptional needs (Article 13(3)(b)(i) of Regulation (EC) No 1008/2008) to enable British Airways to continue passenger operations in light of planned operational disruption by its Mixed Fleet cabin crew.
Substituting alternate aircraft is not completely unheard of. And the part where Qatar Airways is a shareholder in IAG, BA’s parent company, means it stands to gain from helping offset losses at the carrier. Doubly so when one considers that Qatar’s short-haul demand shriveled significantly when it was blacklisted from neighboring GCC countries a couple weeks ago. From all those perspectives it is a smart business move for all parties to sub in the Qatari aircraft.
There is a minor hiccup in that using a non-EU operator as the replacement is not necessarily looked on particularly highly and maybe enough protests on that front will be raised to scuttle the application, something that is typically rubber-stamped for approval.
And there’s also the union issue at stake. I’m not sure that bringing in aircraft crewed by staff that have roughly zero job security protection, either from the company or the local government, is going to win BA any points with its striking cabin crews. And I get that the airline has to react when faced with such a challenge. I’m just not sure I’d choose replacement crew so on the other end of the spectrum from the union protections involved at home.