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Qantas flights back to normal after grounding

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SYDNEY » Qantas Airways said its flights were back on schedule Tuesday, a day after an Australian court ruling ended 48 hours of travel chaos stemming from the airline’s decision to ground its entire fleet.

Qantas, the world’s 10th-largest airline, said all flights were operating on time and as scheduled, with the remaining backlog of passengers affected by the two-day grounding expected to be cleared by Tuesday afternoon.

The airline grounded its fleet Saturday in response to months of strikes by unions representing pilots, aircraft mechanics, baggage handlers and caterers. The move threw the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers into disarray, and prompted the government to order an emergency court hearing.

On Monday, an arbitration court ordered an end to the strikes, which had forced the cancellation of 600 flights in recent months, disrupted travel for 70,000 customers and cost Qantas 70 million Australian dollars ($75 million). The court also canceled a staff lockout, and the airline began flying again about 12 hours later.

The court gave the airline and unions 21 days to reach an agreement. If no deal is reached by then, they will be forced into mandatory arbitration.

"The question is whether the parties can now act in a mature way," Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters Tuesday in Australia’s capital, Canberra. "We’ve called upon both Qantas and the unions to get down to business and to get this deal done."

Qantas enraged union workers in August when it said it would improve its loss-making overseas business by creating an Asia-based airline with its own name and brand. The five-year restructure plan will cost 1,000 jobs.

The airline also said in August that it had more than doubled annual profit to AU$250 million. But it warned the business climate was too unstable to forecast future earnings.

Australian and International Pilots Association president Barry Jackson said its negotiators were working hard to come to a resolution with the airline.

"The clock is ticking," Jackson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television on Monday night. "I’m pretty confident that we’ll get an agreement."

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce defended his decision to ground the airline, saying while it was costly in the short-term, it helped the airline overall.

"I’ll make whatever tough decisions are needed to be made in order to ensure the survival of this great company," he said Monday.

Qantas shares closed up 1 percent to AU$1.63 Tuesday on Australia’s stock exchange.

Qantas is the 10th-largest airline in the world by passenger miles flown, according to the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade group.

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