Stranded passenger Erwin Lee, left, feeds his son Casey at the Qantas Airways counter in Hong Kong International Airport Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 as their flight to Sydney was cancelled. Qantas Airways grounded its global fleet indefinitely Saturday imposing an employee lockout after weeks of disruptive strikes, and the Australian government sought emergency arbitration. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Qantas Airways has grounded its global fleet, suddenly locking out striking workers after weeks of flight disruptions that an executive said could close down the world’s 10th-largest airline piece by piece.
Following Saturday’s announcement by Qantas, the Australian government called for an emergency arbitration hearing, which was adjourned early Sunday morning after evidence was heard from the unions and airline. The hearing was to resume Sunday afternoon, when the government was expected to argue that the airline be ordered to fly in Australia’s economic interests.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline could be flying again within hours if the three arbitration judges rule Sunday to permanently terminate the grounding and the unions’ strike action.
The unions want the judges to rule for a suspension so that the strikes can be resumed if their negotiations with the airline fail.
“Within six hours, we can get the fleet flying again” after the aviation regulator provides a routine clearance, Joyce told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television Sunday.
“We have to wait and see what that process generates today,” he said, referring to the court hearing.
Planes in the air when the grounding was announced continued to their destinations, and at least one taxiing flight stopped on the runway, a passenger said. Among the stranded passengers are 17 world leaders attending a Commonwealth summit in the western Australian city of Perth.
When the grounding was announced, 36 international and 28 domestic Australian flights were in the air, the airline said.
Qantas, which flies 70,000 passengers a day, said 108 airplanes were being grounded at 22 airports, but did not say how many flights were involved. Spokesman Tom Woodward said 13,000 passengers were booked to fly international flights to Australia within 24 hours of the grounding.
The lockout was expected to have little impact in the United States. Only about 1,000 people fly Login to read more