MAKE no bones about it, Qantas's strategy to neutralise the power of the unions representing long-haul pilots, aircraft engineers and ground crews has been long in the planning. It even draws into the dispute workers who have no part.
Pilots who fly aircraft in Australia are not involved in the battle, yet Alan Joyce will ground the domestic fleet with the international one.
Since taking the reins from Geoff Dixon three years ago, Joyce and his executive team have been flying towards this confrontation with key parts of its workforce. They will have the backing of Qantas's chairman, Leigh Clifford, who earned a reputation for playing hardball with unions as boss of the mining giant Rio Tinto.
But the timing is awful.
The Labor government will be severely embarrassed by these drastic steps in the midst of a gathering of world leaders. Qantas now runs the risk of turning many in cabinet against it, even those who may have been ambivalent about the merits of both sides. And, it is vital for Qantas to have the government on side.
In the pilots' strike in 1989, which was a long time brewing, some contingency plans were able to be made by the government, such as calling in the RAAF and allowing international airlines to carry traffic domestically.
This time, Qantas has given no advance warning.
The government will now force a resolution. Australia depends on aviation like almost no other country. While Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tiger Airways can fill some of the gap, the grounding of the Flying Kangaroo will bring many businesses to a grinding halt.
But even with a resolution, it will leave a toxic legacy within Qantas as it embarks on its most aggressive push into Asia, where it wants to set up subsidiary airlines employing workers on lower pay rates and conditions than their Australian counterparts.
Joyce and the Qantas board have embarked on high-risk poker.