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By Jamie Freed
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd <QAN.AX> said on Monday that pilots had voted in favour of a pay deal that would pave the way for the airline to fly the world's longest non-stop commercial flights from Sydney to London.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the airline has cancelled all its international flights through at least the end of May and pushed a decision on whether to order up to 12 Airbus SE <AIR.PA> A350-1000 planes for the Sydney-to-London flights to the end of the year from an earlier deadline of end-March.
"The extraordinary circumstances facing aviation has seen Airbus agree to extend the deadline on our decision to purchase the A350s so we can both focus on navigating the coronavirus crisis," Qantas Chief Pilot Dick Tobiano said in a statement.
"But when this period has passed, and it will, we will refocus our attention on Project Sunrise and the A350 order," he said. Qantas has named the ultra long-haul project "Project Sunrise" after the airline's double-sunrise endurance flights during World War Two.
If the order proceeds, the non-stop flights from Sydney to London and other far-away destinations like New York could start in the first half of 2023, allowing the airline to charge passengers a premium in return for avoiding a stop-over.
Mark Sedgwick, the president of the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), the union representing Qantas pilots, said 85% had voted in favour of the agreement.
Earlier this month, AIPA told members the proposed pay deal was "unsatisfactory" but pilots should make their own call given an outsourcing threat and an uncertain economic climate, according to a memo.
The airline later announced plans to put two-thirds of its workforce on leave as it stopped international flights and made severe cuts to domestic flying.
"Our attention now turns to the immediate needs of member pilots during this global health crisis which has brought the aviation industry to its knees," AIPA's Sedgwick said in a statement. "Although people will start flying again and demand will come back, no one knows when that is likely to be."
(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Kim Coghill and Himani Sarkar)