Singapore slung as pilots look to dine in Dubai

Qantas long-haul pilots are waving goodbye to a place they have long called home in Singapore.

For more than four decades, Qantas pilots have met at Fatty's, a restaurant in a bustling shopping area of the city state, while stopping over on flights to London and continental Europe.

"Fatty's is an absolute tradition amongst the Qantas pilots. There are quite a few guys with nostalgia in their eyes," Qantas A380 captain Richard Woodward said. "You build up myths and traditions when you go to that kind of place. It is the absolute passing of an era for most of us."

Every night, the pilots would be guaranteed to be found eating at Fatty's, a Chinese restaurant in Bugis Junction run by two brothers (one of whom is known as "Skinny"). But from Sunday, the pilots will be looking for a new meeting place in Dubai.

After 66 years, the air route on which Qantas flew all the way to London via Singapore - affectionately known to generations of Australians as the kangaroo route - will end.

Instead Qantas and its new alliance partner, Emirates, will fly Australians to destinations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East via Dubai. The shift signals a major redirection in strategy for the de facto national flag carrier.

Qantas will fly two A380 superjumbos from Sydney and Melbourne each day to London via Dubai, while Emirates will have 12 daily flights from five Australian airports. The first Qantas plane to fly to Dubai will be captained by Richard Tobiano, the chief pilot of the airline's international operations.

The shift of the hub to Dubai means passengers will be able to reach 32 destinations in Europe while stopping off just once on flights from Australia. They will no longer have to stop at London's Heathrow Airport to catch connecting flights to continental Europe.

Between them, Qantas and Emirates will carry more than more than 50 per cent of passengers who fly between Australia and Europe.

Mr Woodward, who is vice-president of the long-haul pilots' union, said the jury was still out on whether the Emirates alliance was the right deal for Qantas but conceded the airline had to do something because "the world is moving towards mega carriers".

Chief executive Alan Joyce is in no doubt about the benefits, pointing this week to a significant increase in bookings from passengers who have "already responded to the joint network".

Stockbroking analysts believe the deal will help turn around the fortunes of Qantas' international flying operations. They estimate it could be worth up to $210 million in annual pre-tax earnings for Qantas.

The Emirates deal will also bring to an end Qantas' 17-year alliance with British Airways on the kangaroo route. BA has committed to retaining Singapore as its hub for its daily flights between London and Sydney.

For Fatty's, it is not the complete severing of ties with Qantas. The pilots of Qantas A330 planes which still fly to Singapore will continue to call it home.