The Qantas Group has revealed a detailed plan for resumption of international flights, with the gradual restart planned around National Cabinet’s phased reopening of international borders and linked to the vaccine rollout in Australia and key overseas markets.
Qantas states on current projection, Australia is expected to reach National Cabinet’s ‘Phase C’ vaccination threshold of 80% in December 2021, which would trigger the gradual reopening of international borders.
National Cabinet’s ‘Phase C’ reopening plan:
- Triggered when vaccine rate among eligible Australians reaches 80%
- Highly targeted lockdowns only
- No caps on returning vaccinated Australians
- Lift all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians
- Extend travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries
- Gradual reopening of inward and outward international travel with safe countries and proportionate quarantine and reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travellers
As we all know, Australia has been one of the toughest countries to get into since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The Australian government has taken a ‘Zero-COVID’ approach meaning that entry restrictions are very tight.
Qantas states that ‘key’ markets like the United Kingdom, North America and parts of Asia have high and increasing levels of vaccination. This makes them highly likely to be classed as low risk countries for vaccinated travellers to visit and return from under reduced quarantine requirements, pending decisions by the Australian Government and entry policies of other countries.
The airline says that this creates a range of potential travel options that Qantas and Jetstar are now preparing for. While COVID-19 has shown that circumstances can change unexpectedly, the group says that the long lead times for international readiness means it 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’.
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Qantas will push back resumption of flights to destinations that still have low vaccine rates and high levels of COVID-19 infection from December 2021 until April 2022 – including Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg. The Sydney-based carrier says that the levels of travel demand will impact the capacity levels and this will depend on government decisions on alternative requirements to mandatory hotel isolation for fully vaccinated travellers.
Assuming current projections hold and the 80% vaccine threshold is met in December, Qantas and Jetstar plan to trigger a gradual restart as outlined below. If those assumptions change or dates move, Qantas will adjust the restart plan accordingly.
The Summary of the International Restart Plan is:
- Starting in mid-December 2021, Qantas will resume flying to COVID-safe destinations, which are likely to include Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada using Boeing B787-9s, Airbus A330s, Boeing B737s and Airbus A320s for service to Fiji.
- Flights between Australia and New Zealand will be on sale for travel from mid-December 2021 on the assumption some or all parts of the two-way bubble will restart.
- Qantas states that the airline’s ability to fly non-stop between Australia and London is expected to be in even higher demand post-COVID. The airline is investigating using Darwin as a transit point, which has been Qantas’ main entry for repatriation flights, as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia. Qantas says that discussions on this option are ongoing.
- Now, the most interesting part and good news for the fans of the Airbus A380s. Qantas plans to restart A380 operations on flights between Sydney and Los Angeles from July 2022 & between Sydney and London (via Singapore) from November 2022. Qantas’ 5 A380s will return to service ahead of schedule. The carrier is confident that the A380s will work well on these long-haul routes when there’s sufficient demand, and the high vaccination rates in both markets would underpin this.
- Qantas will extend the range of its A330-200 aircraft to operate some trans-Pacific routes such as Brisbane-Los Angeles and Brisbane-San Francisco. This involves some technical changes that are now being finalised with Airbus. Before the pandemic, the airline used to operate Boeing B787-9s on these routes.
- Flights to Hong Kong will restart in February and the rest of the Qantas and Jetstar international network is planned to open up from April 2022, with capacity increasing gradually.
- The airline will take delivery of 3 new Boeing B787-9s that have been in storage with Boeing in 2023 to operate additional flights to key markets as demand increases.
- Jetstar will take delivery of its first three Airbus A321LR aircraft from early 2023. The airline will deploy these airplanes on some of the B787 routes, which in turn will free up the B787/s to be redeployed on other markets.
In total, 10 of Qantas’ A380s with upgraded interiors are expected to return to service by early 2024, with timing dependent on how quickly the market recovers. Two A380s will be retired.
Alan Joyce, CEO, Qantas Group, 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
Qantas states that the readiness for international travel to restart is supported by ongoing repatriation and charter flights using A330s and B787s, as well as specific funding from the Australian Government for crew training and engineering work to return idle aircraft to service.
It remains to be seen whether the Qantas Group is able to stick with the schedule that it has outlined. This all depends on whether or not Australia will reach the 80% vaccine threshold in December 2021.
for international travel to restart is supported by ongoing repatriation and charter flights using A330s and 787s, as well as specific funding from the Australian Government for crew training and engineering work to return idle aircraft to service.
Qantas has also extended credit vouchers for bookings made on or before 30 September 2021 to enable travel until 31 December 2023. Jetstar customers issued with a voucher due to COVID-19 disruptions are able to use their voucher to book flights until at least 31 December 2022, for flights up to the end of 2023.
Meanwhile, Qantas has announced the resumption of flights to Proserpine for the first time in seven years and has also announced a significant domestic expansion including deploying its Boeing B787 Dreamliners on some domestic routes. The airline has resumed flights to Burnie too and will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Qantas is rewarding its Australian Frequent Flyers who are fully vaccinated in order to support vaccination.
Featured image by Executive Traveller
What do you think of Qantas Group’s plan to restart international flights? Do you think there will be enough demand to fill the A380 once it resumes operations? Let me know in the comments section below.