In a market update, the Qantas Group is forecasting its biggest-ever Underlying Profit Before Tax profit of between $2,425 million and $2,475 million on the back of continued strong travel demand and the completion of its three-year recovery program.
And with the record profit the airline is also forecasting lower fares.
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The airline said that group domestic capacity will be above pre-COVID levels at 104 per cent by the end of 2H23, led by a significant increase in flying on key routes between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Group international capacity will grow to greater than 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels by the end of 2H23, with the rate of increase slightly below plan due to some supply issues earlier in the half – such as a three-month delay to restarting Melbourne-Hong Kong due to a shortage of ground handlers in that overseas port.
Qantas last week announced a further ramp-up in flying from October 2023 onwards that will see Group International capacity reach around 100 per cent of pre-COVID levels by March 2024.
The airline said that the steady return of total market capacity has seen fare levels moderate from peaks reached in the first half of FY23, but it said that yields are expected to remain materially above pre-COVID levels through FY24, particularly internationally. Similarly, international freight yields have moderated to levels of around 1.5 times pre-COVID levels.
Qantas said that forward booking trends indicate strong travel demand continuing into FY24. Revenue intakes are at 118 per cent of pre-COVID levels for Group Domestic and 123 per cent for Group International.
The airline claims that the customer experience is improving.
It adds that jet fuel prices remain elevated but recent falls will deliver a cost improvement in 2H23, which is partly offset by adverse movements in foreign exchange for an overall benefit of $150 million. Adverse bond rate movements are currently expected to have a $40 million non-cash impact-on provisions in 2H23.
Qantas Loyalty remains on track to reach the top end of its FY23 Underlying EBIT target of $425 million to $450 million.
The Qantas Group has now finalised 38 enterprise agreements under its revised wage policy, representing around 80 per cent of its total workforce covered by EBAs. These employees are eligible for a $5,000 recovery boost and around 20,000 employees are expected to be eligible for a recovery bonus of up to $6,500 based on the current Qantas share price, vesting after its full-year results in August 2023.
Qantas said that given the Group’s strong balance sheet and the positive outlook, the Board has increased the existing on-market buy-back by up to $100 million. The existing buy-back of up to $500 million was announced in February and is now 78 per cent complete at an average price of $6.49 per share.
The Group is on track to achieve its revised capital expenditure target of $2,600 million to $2,700 million for FY23, which includes forward payments for aircraft due for delivery in future years.
Qantas added that including the additional buy-back the Group’s net debt is now expected to be between $2,700 million and $2,900 million as at 30 June 2023, which is significantly below the bottom of its revised target range of $3,700 million to $4,600 million.
Qantas Group CEO, Alan Joyce, said: “We’re seeing the broad trends we expected as the industry recovers and trading conditions remain very positive.
“More parts of the aviation supply chain are returning to normal, which means we’re able to put some of the spare aircraft and crew we kept in reserve back in the schedule. That’s combining with lower fuel prices to help put downward pressure on fares, which is good news for customers.
“The industry remains capacity constrained and the travel category remains strong, so there’s still a mismatch between supply and demand that’s likely to persist for some time, especially for international flying.
“We’re on track to take delivery of another eight new aircraft before the end of this calendar year and we’re working hard to bring the last of our stored aircraft through heavy maintenance so we can get them back in the air,” said Mr Joyce.