Many rivers to cross before Qantas International takes wing

August 26, 2021
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce in the new A380 lounge. Photo: Steve Creedy

Qantas boss Alan Joyce is keenly aware that pieces of a complex international puzzle need to fall into place for a resumption of his airline’s international passenger operations by Christmas.

The airline on Thursday unveiled optimistic plans to progressively resume operations to a limited network of international destinations in mid-December.

The initial targets would be countries with high vaccine rates such as Singapore, Japan, the US, the UK and New Zealand.

If all goes smoothly, the plan would see flights to Hong Kong restart in February with services to destinations with lower vaccination rates such as Bali, Jakarta, Manila and Johannesburg not following until late April at the earliest.

READ: A380 to make early return as Qantas reconnects to the world

The plan is predicated on Australia vaccinating 80 per cent of eligible adults by this time, the federal government opening borders to international travel and the states agreeing to that.

The airline is assuming in terms of domestic travel that New South Wales and Victoria won’t see borders open up to other states until December 1 but it has doubts about Western Australia.

READ: Qantas warns Perth-London nonstops may move to Darwin

It also needs mutual recognition of vaccines and documentation by various countries as well as the introduction of systems making that possible.

Keeping the current quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers is seen as a demand killer and Joyce noted trials were underway that combined testing and home quarantine until a negative result.

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“If it’s 14 days in a hotel, demand levels will be very low,’’ Joyce said during the airline’s results announcement.

“A shorter period with additional testing and the option to isolate at home will see a lot more people travel.

“Like many elements of the plan, it relies on decisions by the Australian government.”

Joyce said the airline had been in good dialogue with the federal government, which agreed its proposed initial destinations were sensible and its broad assumptions were “reasonable”.

But he knows the date may seem Pollyannish to some. The airline has set dates previously and then had to revise them.

“The nature of COVID means we’ve had to change our plans a couple of times already,’’ he conceded. “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.

“That means there’s a lot of work that has to begin now.”

Looking at the preparation the airline needs to make, Joyce said it needed to get the International Air Association Travel Pass integrated into its system and expected this to be done by October.

This will allow it to check the vaccination and test status of passengers travelling and that they meet the visa requirements of the country to which they’re travelling.

He said the airline also needed to have pilots, cabin crew and aircraft ready to start the operation but the airline was well placed because it had been flying about 15 per cent of pre-COVID international operations through freighter and repatriation flights.

There would be 90 repatriation and charter flights taking place in the next 90 days.

“So there’s a lot of activity that’s helping getting our pilots and cabin crew back into the training needed for this operation,” he said.

In addition to eased Australian quarantine restrictions, there is a question of which vaccines are acceptable to which governments.

The US, for example, has yet to recognize either the British or Australian versions of AstraZeneca for travel.

The World Travel and Tourism Council this week called on the US to speed up approval of the vaccine to avoid it becoming a significant barrier to trans-Atlantic travel.

WTTC senior vice president Virginia Messina warned that unless AZ received a green light “the US will effectively remain closed to the vast majority of UK visitors and the many millions around the world who are doubled jabbed with the AstraZeneca vaccine”.

Joyce acknowledged there was a range of vaccinations globally and “certain countries are authorising certain vaccinations”.

But he said the Australian government was working on the issue and the airline believed everything should be ready by the end of the year.