An 80 percent vaccination rate among Australia’s citizens would trigger what Qantas calls a gradual reopening of international borders and allow for the airline’s reintroduction of service to markets with relatively high and increasing vaccination rates by December, the airline said Thursday. Australia’s vaccination rate now stands at 25.5 percent but recent trends have raised the confidence of government officials that the country will reach 80 percent by the end of the year.
Qantas said the vaccination rates in the UK, North America, and parts of Asia make those destinations “highly likely” candidates for a December restart, while low vaccination rates in places such as Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City, and Johannesburg have prompted the airline to delay planned restart of service to April 2022.
Under current plans, beginning in mid-December 2021 flights would connect Australia with so-called Covid-safe destinations, which would likely include Singapore, the U.S., Japan, the UK, and Canada using Boeing 787s and Airbus A330, while the airline deploys Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s for services to Fiji.
Qantas added that it expects higher demand post-Covid for non-stop between Australia and London. The airline said it might use Darwin—its main entry for repatriation flights—as a transit point alternative or supplement to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia.
Fleet plans call for five A380s returning to service ahead of schedule. The Airbus superjumbos would fly between Sydney and Los Angeles starting in July 2022, and between Sydney and London (via Singapore) beginning in November 2022. “The A380s work well on these long-haul routes when there’s sufficient demand, and the high vaccination rates in both markets would underpin this,” the airline said in a statement.
Further plans call for Qantas to extend the range of its A330-200 to operate some trans-Pacific routes such as Brisbane-Los Angeles and Brisbane-San Francisco. The range increase involves some “technical changes” by Airbus, it said. Meanwhile, flights to Hong Kong would restart in February and the rest of the international networks of Qantas and low-cost subsidiary Jetstar would begin to open in April 2022.
Qantas plans to take delivery of three Boeing 787-9s still in storage with Boeing during the airline’s 2023 fiscal year, while it takes delivery of its first three Airbus A321LRs early that year. The A321LR’s extended range will free some Boeing 787s for redeployment in other markets, the airline said.
All told, Qantas expects 10 of its A380s with upgraded interiors to return to service by early 2024, although timing depends on how quickly the market recovers. The airline has decided to retire two A380s.
Ongoing repatriation and charter flights using A330s and 787s along with specific funding from the Australian government for crew training and engineering work to return idle aircraft to service will aid Qantas’ readiness to restart international travel, it added.
“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,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
“It’s obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders reopen, but with Australia on track to meet the 80 percent 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.”
Meanwhile, Qantas reported pre-tax losses for the 2021 financial year of A$1.83 billion ($2.5 billion), noting that the Covid pandemic has resulted in a $12 billion reduction in the carrier’s revenues. “This loss shows the impact that a full year of closed international borders and more than 330 days of domestic travel restrictions has had on the national carrier,” Joyce commented. “The trading conditions have frankly been diabolical.”