Sydney: Hit by a series of strikes, Australian flag carrier Qantas today grounded its entire domestic and international fleet indefinitely, stranding thousands of passengers including 17 Commonwealth Heads of State.
The airlines took an unprecedented decision to lock out all staff involved in its industrial dispute from Monday night.
The capital of Western Australia, where the CHOGAM meet is being held, is one of the most isolated cities in the world and an summit official said that the Qantas decision to ground its fleet had stranded delegations from 17 member states.
Heads of State and senior officials from 54-nation block are gathered in the city in the largest diplomatic summit ever staged in the city.
"The CHOGAM task force is in discussion about arranging alternative transport options for the delegates," a spokesman said.
"We have decided to ground the Qantas international and domestic fleets immediately," chief executive Alan Joyce said.
13,000 passengers would be affected within the next 24 hours by the decision to ground the airlines.
The airline said pilots, engineers and baggage, ground and catering staff were essential to Qantas operations and their lockout made it necessary to ground all planes.
"Aircraft currently in the air will complete the sectors they are operating. However, there will be no further Qantas domestic departures or international departures anywhere in the world," it said.
Months of strikes by baggage handlers, engineers and pilots were costing Qantas USD 16 million per week, the airline said, with the total financial impact so far touching Aus dollar 68 million.
About 70,000 passengers had been affected ahead of the announcement and more than 600 flights cancelled.
The company's decision to ground all aircraft will affect 108 planes at 22 airports.
The Australian government said it was "very concerned" by the dramatic development and would seek urgent action from the industrial regulator.
The Unions have been protesting against pay and restructuring plans and the decision to ground the planes came a day after a fiery annual general meeting.