Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has compared an alliance with Etihad ahead of Emirates as "being offered a bike before a BMW".
Joyce delivered the colourful zinger today at Sydney's Australia Pacific Aviation Summit, barely 24 hours after Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan stood on the same stage and outlined his own airline's ambitions for the Australian market.
As Joyce tells it, Etihad Airways proposed an alliance to Qantas almost a decade ago but "the numbers didn't stack up".
Etihad is now partner and part-owner of Qantas challenger Virgin Australia, with plans to ramp up its Australian presence in 2014 including new premium airport lounges, more flights plus Airbus A380 services to Sydney and Melbourne.
In 2010, following Etihad's approval from Australia's competition regulator to enter an alliance with Virgin, Joyce observed that "we looked at the numbers (of an Etihad partnership) and we didn't believe it could be economic."
In today's speech Joyce re-iterated his focus on bringing Qantas' international operations back into the black, with the aim of returning to profitability in 2016 after last year's $450m loss for the overseas arm.
That's timed for the introduction of Boeing's 787-9 Dreamliner into the Qantas fleet, following this year's debut of the 787-8 with low-cost offshoot Jetstar.
"The problem child always gets the maximum attention" Joyce joked of QFi, although he proudly added that Qantas is one of the few airlines in the world which flies to every continent.
Rising fuel costs remain one chink in the Red Roo's armour, however, with Joyce reporting that Qantas' fuel bill "was $4 billion last year, and we're a $16 billion business".
But you can't get everything right the first time, Joyce admitted. "My management strategy is to get it right 80% of time, admit when you get the rest wrong, fix it and learn from it".
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.