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Turbulent times for ailing Qantas after record loss

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
updated 2:29 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Qantas' announcement about losses comes just months after it revealed 5,000 jobs would be cut.
Qantas' announcement about losses comes just months after it revealed 5,000 jobs would be cut.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Qantas reveals after-tax net loss of $2.6 billion (A$2.8 billion) for the year to June 30
  • High fuel costs, falling demand among reasons given by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce
  • Airline has been beset by problems, including industrial action, domestic price war

(CNN) -- Australia's ailing flag carrier was sent into a tailspin Thursday, as the airline reported its biggest ever loss.

In its latest report, Qantas revealed an after-tax net loss of $2.6 billion (A$2.8 billion) for the year to June 30, with the cumulative effect of high fuel costs, falling demand, and a massive writedown of its international fleet blamed.

"There is no doubt today's numbers are confronting, but they represent the year that is past," said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who added that he predicted a return to underlying profitability in 2015.

"We have now come through the worst. With our accelerated Qantas Transformation program we are already emerging as a leaner, more focused and more sustainable Qantas Group."

Tough times

Australia's Qantas cutting 5,000 jobs
Emirates-Qantas alliance 'neat fit'

Despite his optimism, the carrier has faced an extremely turbulent ride in recent years. In February, it announced plans to cut 5,000 positions over the next three years as it seeks to claw back costs. The airline employs 33,000 people, according to the company website. About 93% of them are based in Australia.

Qantas has also clashed with domestic unions over plans to review its maintenance operations. Union officials accused the airline of planning to outsource ground jobs at a cost of thousands of Australian jobs and of putting profits first.

The dispute came to a head in late 2011, when the carrier grounded its fleet -- with unionized pilots, engineers, ramp, baggage and catering crews effectively locked out -- affecting around 100,000 passengers at the time. The airline was eventually ordered to end the dispute by the government.

Joyce has also blamed competition, particularly in Australia's busy domestic market, for many of Qantas' problems, suggesting that rival Virgin Australia -- which has been rapidly adding flights since 2011 -- has the advantage of an "uneven playing field," as their price war intensifies.

"The Australian domestic market has been distorted by current Australian aviation policy," he said earlier this year, referring to the fact laws restrict Qantas from receiving foreign investment.

Virgin, by comparison, is supported by three foreign airlines -- Air New Zealand, Etihad and Singapore Airlines -- which helped the company raise more than $300 million in investment last year.

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