Qantas Group has shown its confidence for a return to commercial international flights, flagging a potential resumption of services from December to destinations on a similar path to Australia’s vaccination threshold.
Those destinations that are front of the queue and deemed to be “COVID-safe” include Singapore, the USA, UK, Japan, Canada and Fiji, in addition to New Zealand which Qantas Group had been servicing under the TransTasman Bubble until recently.
The vision to relaunch overseas routes by mid-December 2021 aligns with Australia’s vaccine rollout plan.
The Australian airline said that based on current forecasts 80% of Australians will have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by December, triggering the gradual reopening of international borders.
“While COVID has shown that circumstances can change unexpectedly, the long lead times for international readiness means the Group needs to make some reasonable assumptions based on the latest data to make sure it can offer flights to customers as soon as they become feasible,” Qantas Group said.
Alan Joyce, Qantas Group CEO said: “The nature of COVID means we’ve had to change our plans a couple of times already. And we can’t rule out having to move them again.
“I know the prospect of flying overseas might feel a long way off – especially with New South Wales and Victoria in lockdown. Some people might say we’re still being too optimistic. But the current pace of the vaccine rollout means all Australian states are on track to reach the 80 per cent target by December – which is the trigger for starting to carefully open to some parts of the world,” Alan Joyce, CEO Qantas Group.
The Qantas boss said the big unknown at the moment will be the quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers entering Australia.
“If it’s 14 days in a hotel, demand levels will be very low. A shorter period with additional testing and the option to isolate at home will see a lot more people travel,” he said.
Meanwhile flights to destinations such as Bali, Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg – where the vaccine take-up rate is low and there are high levels of COVID infection – will be bumped from the previously mooted December restart until April next year.
Qantas Group expects demand for its non-stop flights between Australia and the UK (London) will swell in demand in the post-COVID era, instead of traditional transits through Singapore and Dubai.
QF had been operating non-stop flights between Perth and London for a number of years until the pandemic. And now, due to the Western Australian Government’s “conservative border policies”, the airline confirmed it’s investigating using Darwin as an alternative transit point from east coast hubs over Perth. (Qantas has been using Darwin as its main entry point for repatriation flights).
A380s back sooner
Qantas said it plans to return to service five of its 12 A380 double-decker aircraft from mid-2022, some 12 months ahead of initial forecasts. The superjumbos will be deployed on routes to the US and London (via Singapore).
“These were key markets for Qantas before COVID and given how well they have recovered, we expect travel demand on these routes to be strong enough for the A380. We have the flexibility to bring back the other five A380s by early 2024, depending on how quickly the market recovers,” Joyce continued.
In all, 10 of Qantas’ A380s with upgraded interiors are expected to return to service by early 2024. Two will be retired.
“The A380 is a great aircraft that our passengers love. The 10 aircraft we’re bringing back will have all-new interiors and we expect them to be part of our fleet for many years to come – alongside our Dreamliners, Airbus A330s and ultimately the Airbus A350 for Project Sunrise and non-stop flights to New York and London.”
The first of those A380s departed Los Angeles this week bound for Dresden, Germany, for maintenance ahead of planned refurbishment. VH-OQB is one of two Qantas’ superjumbos that has been in storage at a hangar at LAX since March last year, Australian Aviation reports.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen, including training for our people and carefully bringing aircraft back into service. We’re also working to integrate the IATA travel pass into our systems to help our customers prove their vaccine status and cross borders.
“We can adjust our plans if the circumstances change, which we’ve already had to do several times during this pandemic. Some people might say we’re being too optimistic, but based on the pace of the vaccine rollout, this is within reach and we want to make sure we’re ready,” added Joyce.
Qantas has also extended credit vouchers for bookings made on or before 30 September 2021 to enable travel until 31 December 2023. Jetstar customers issued with a voucher due to COVID-19 disruptions are able to use their voucher to book flights until at least 31 December 2022, for flights up to the end of 2023.