Qantas has threatened to move its Perth-London nonstop flights to Darwin if the West Australian government’s conservative border policies keep the state isolated.
The airline expects even higher demand for the successful non-stop service post-COVID but said it was investigating Darwin, the main entry for its repatriation flights, as a transit point and an alternative to Perth.
WA Premier Mark McGowan has refused to commit to ending lockdowns and border closures once the majority of eligible Australians have been vaccinated in an effort to keep COVID at bay.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told a press conference Thursday that the airline was “hoping for the best but planning for the worst” when it came to WA’s tough stance on border closures.
In the short term, Joyce said Qantas would operate through Darwin using its existing facilities to give people an option of getting to the UK directly, a flight for which he expected significant demand “and people will love”.
But he also flagged the airline was looking at a long-term change.
He said the airline had operated more than 320 repatriation flights carrying 26,000 Australians, predominantly through Darwin.
“We’ve gotten some good operational capability of flying from Darwin to London, to Frankfurt, to Paris, to Instanbul, so we know that operation really well,’’ he said.
“And given the conservative nature of Western Australia, we again hope for the best but have to plan for the worst.
“So if the only option is to operate the London flights via Darwin, we think we’re very capable of doing that.
“And we will have a look at whether that’s a long-term position or a short-term position.
“We have teams looking at what we do on lounges, as an example, if it was a long-term position and it potentially could be.”
Joyce said he hoped state premiers would stick to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plan to open up the country when vaccine rollouts hit the 70 to 80 percent levels agreed in the national cabinet.
He was hopeful that reaching those levels would allow people to visit their friends and families throughout Australia over Christmas.
“I think people really want that, people really want those freedoms, people want to get back into their normal lives,” he said.
“And I think it would be a terrible shame if that, when we got to Christmas, in New South Wales you could visit your relatives in London but can’t visit your relatives in Perth.
“So hopefully we don’t get there and we can get some consistency with national cabinet pushing through to opening up Australia and for us not to be a hermit nation going forward.”