Illustration: John Spooner

Illustration: John Spooner

Whatever shape Qantas finds itself in a year from now, it seems unlikely Alan Joyce will still be running the airline. The current board, led by Leigh Clifford, is also likely to be different.

The brutal reality is Joyce has put himself in a catch-22 situation by politicising the woes of the airline and insisting he is blameless, and that he has the full backing of the board and his shareholders. ''There is nothing anybody in Qantas has done that has caused this issue,'' he said.

At the end of the day, although Australians still consider Qantas their national carrier, albeit with less fervour after he grounded the airline on October 29, 2011 to break a deadlock with three unions, the lure of cheap air tickets dominates. And politicians have an eye for the votes.

It explains why Virgin Australia boss John Borghetti opened his half-yearly results posing the questions: ''What do we want the future of aviation in Australia to be? Do we want to go back to the days of the 1980s, when there was a regulated market and government-supported airlines were cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic and airfares were high? Or do we want to continue what was started in the 1990s, following the path of other countries such as the US, Europe and Japan, in deregulating the market and encouraging competition, choice and innovation for the benefit of customers?''

Joyce has not endeared himself to the Australian public or staff with his various tactics since October 2011.

In the past couple of years, his various tactics and brawls with staff and rival Virgin to maintain a 65 per cent market share has made him the most disliked chief executive since Sol Trujillo waved goodbye after a controversial stint at Telstra.

In a series of focus groups conducted in February in Sydney's central business district with a $120 incentive for 90 minutes of grilling about Qantas, one of the participants said each of the eight people in his group agreed on the following: 1. Qantas was/is our national carrier - we were all proud of Qantas; 2. Australian pilots, Australian cabin crew, Australian aircraft servicing, safety and on-time flights are the most important factors when choosing an airline with which to fly [more than food, Qantas Club, in-flight service, seating, entertainment systems, etc]; 3. Joyce and his team have ruined Qantas for their own ends; 4. Qantas needs to heal the rift between its staff and management to gain more confidence and thus more patronage from the public. The participant said there were several other focus groups being run concurrently. ''The mood throughout seemed to be consistent with the above.''

The final reading of the focus groups is not known, but this sort of talk is not surprising. Indeed, in the past few days I have received more than 100 emails from staff, former staff, customers and former customers castigating Joyce and the board for the embarrassing mess of Qantas. The tone is a mix of sadness and anger.

This sort of talk about Joyce is not unusual and prompted online bookmaker sportsbet.com.au to open up bets on how long Joyce could remain at the airline. Sportsbet's Will Byrne said: ''In bad news for the Irishman, the bookie is offering odds of $1.62 that he will have his wings clipped by this time next year, with $2.20 on offer for him to survive the current turbulence.''

Since the bets were opened on Friday, the booking agency has become more confident Joyce will go this month, with the odds for a sacking moving from $4.50 to $3.75 as the pressure mounts. ''Joyce appears to be on borrowed time, and his odds for a departure sooner than later have nosedived,'' Byrne said.

It has also opened up the bet to who will depart first: $1.50 odds for Joyce and $2.50 for Clifford.

Meanwhile, the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon are trying as hard as they can to establish an urgent inquiry into the future of Qantas. They want Joyce to front the Senate inquiry so they can open his airline's books in an attempt to shine a light on what has gone on at Qantas.

Joyce released a loss of $252 million for the six months to December 31, announced he would slash 5000 jobs, cut routes, mothball or defer 50 aircraft and sell some assets. He is also calling for government assistance, including a debt guarantee and the removal of the antiquated Qantas Sale Act to ''level the playing field''.

But some of the problems are self-inflicted due to his obsession with maintaining a 65 per cent market share and his decision to continue to grow capacity despite the current state of affairs.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is believed to be investigating Qantas for potential misuse of market power. In September, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said he was ''concerned'' by comments made by Qantas, particularly that it would add two planes for each one added by Virgin. Just as the government is set to make its verdict on Qantas' request for help, the ACCC should decide on what it plans to do in relation to the airline's role in the capacity war.