Qantas has outlined plans for the resumption of international flights from December, with the UK and US likely to be among the first destinations, and the possibility raised of a switch in nonstop London services to Darwin.
Earlier this year the carrier postponed the relaunch of international services until December, and now says that this date “remains in reach”, based on the current pace of vaccine rollout.
Qantas said that “On current projections Australia is expected to reach National Cabinet’s ‘Phase C’ vaccination threshold of 80 per cent in December 2021, which would trigger the gradual reopening of international borders”.
Under the plans destinations including Singapore, the United States, Japan, the UK and Canada – which are “likely to be classed as low risk countries for vaccinated travellers to visit and return from under reduced quarantine requirements” due to their high vaccination levels – will see flights resume from mid-December.
Initially flights will be served by B787 Dreamliner and A330 aircraft (B737s and A320s for Fiji), but Qantas is targeting the return of five A380 superjumbos from mid-2022, serving Sydney-LA from July next year, and Sydney-Singapore-London from November 2022.
Flights between Australia and New Zealand are also expected to resume from mid-December “on the assumption some or all parts of the two-way bubble will restart”. The agreement is currently suspended due to rising cases of Covid-19 in Australia.
Qantas also said that it was investigating using Darwin (which has been its main entry point for repatriation flights during Covid-19) as a transit point for its nonstop services from London. The carrier said that this could be “as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia”.
The airline launched nonstop London-Perth flights in 2018, and said that its “ability to fly nonstop between Australia and London is expected to be in even higher demand post-Covid”.
Flights to Hong Kong are expected to resume in February, but destinations including Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg – which “still have low vaccine rates and high levels of Covid infection” – will not resume until April 2022.
Qantas said that “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”.
The carrier plans to take delivery of B787-9s (new aircraft which have been in storage) during FY2023, to operate “additional flights to key markets as demand increases”.
Its subsidiary Jetstar will also take delivery of its first three A321 neo LRs during the same period, with Qantas stating that the extended range of these aircraft will free up some of its B787s to be redeployed on other markets.
Qantas plans to retire two of its A380s, with the remaining ten expected to return to service with upgraded interiors by early 2024, “with timing dependent on how quickly the market recovers”.
The news comes as Qantas this week announced a full year underlying loss before tax of A$1.83 billion, with total revenue loss from Covid-19 reaching A$16 billion. But the group said that it has “started FY22 in a fundamentally better position to deal with uncertainty and manage its recovery compared with 12 months ago”.
Commenting on the planned resumption of international services Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said:
“The prospect of flying overseas might feel a long way off, especially with New South Wales and Victoria in lockdown, but the current pace of the vaccine rollout means we should have a lot more freedom in a few months’ time.
“It’s obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders re-open, but with Australia on track to meet the 80 per cent trigger agreed by National Cabinet by the end of the year, we need to plan ahead for what is a complex restart process.
“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.”