Qantas short-haul pilots will hold meetings across the country this week to consider industrial action after negotiations with management over a new labour agreement reached a stalemate.
The threat of unrest by about 560 pilots who fly Qantas' fleet of Boeing 737s on domestic routes will rekindle memories of the damaging dispute in 2011 between the airline and three unions. It led to a two-day grounding of Qantas' entire fleet that stranded thousands of passengers.
In the latest stand-off, the short-haul pilots claim that Qantas has rejected their demands for a similar amount of guaranteed flying hours and annual leave to their counterparts at Virgin Australia.
The pilots' union will hold meetings of their members in Perth on Monday, Melbourne on Tuesday, Brisbane on Wednesday and Sydney on Thursday to discuss the option of protected industrial action.
The two sides have been in negotiations since the enterprise bargaining agreement expired in August.
Qantas' budget offshoot Jetstar is also in the early stages of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement with about 500 of its pilots who fly mostly domestic routes.
Australian and International Pilots Association vice-president Brad Hodson said the Qantas short-haul pilots simply wanted to work decent hours and have better prospects of career progression.
"Qantas pilots have no thirst for protected industrial action, but nor do we want to allow management to drag us through months and months of stonewalling," he said.
"We have learnt lessons from 2011 and will have no hesitation in applying them, if it becomes necessary."
The union highlighted the fact that Virgin pilots were guaranteed 71 paid hours every 28 days, compared with 53 for their counterparts at Qantas.
Virgin pilots also had 150 days leave every year whereas Qantas short-haul pilots received 117.
But Qantas described the union's claims as unrealistic.
While it was willing to offer the pilots an annual pay rise of 3 per cent, Qantas said it would not agree to claims over guaranteed flying hours that would "undermine our competitive position".
"Qantas pilots consistently work and are paid above the minimum guaranteed hours," a spokesman said.
The airline said it already offered career advancement for its pilots, highlighting the fact that it had recently advertised for 38 Boeing 737 pilots to accommodate planned growth.
It also emphasised that it would be business as usual for its operations.
While the union has raised its rhetoric, the likelihood of the stand-off developing into a full-blown strike is considered low. In the 2011 dispute, the long-haul pilots' industrial action was limited to wearing non-uniform ties and alerting passengers to their campaign via in-flight announcements.
Nevertheless, any unrest will be an unwanted distraction for Qantas, which is in the midst of an intense battle with Virgin Australia in the domestic market.
Both make the bulk of their earnings from domestic flights.