Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said his airline could “easily” be operating up to 50 per cent capacity in July “if demand is there”.
Joyce also reiterated an earlier pledge to offer $19 fares between Sydney and Melbourne when recreational flights resume in mid-winter, and defended his decision to not enforce social distancing on planes.
Speaking to Nine’s Today program, Joyce said, “We don’t think we’ll go back to 100 per cent honestly in July but we have the capability to easily add 40 to 50 per cent of the capacity that we had before COVID-19 in that month and then a ramp up even further every other month.”
The views came across in one of two interviews conducted in the last 24 hours, used to publicise the airline’s earlier-announced coronavirus passenger plan.
On a separate appearance on RN Breakfast, Joyce defended Qantas’ decision not to keep the middle seat free, but instead provide all passengers with masks.
He said enforcing social distancing onboard would be “uneconomical” and would lead to hikes in airfares.
“It’s not social distancing, it’s a 60-centimetre difference between two people,” Joyce said.
He added the already announced measures would be enough to protect passengers: “Because the cabin’s pressurised, 99.9 per cent of all viruses, all bacteria, are filtered through medical-grade filters, they are usually in operating theatres and the air is extracted every five minutes from the cabin.
“With the cabin, with the measures we’re introducing, the masks, the sanitisers for people to wipe down, the extra cleaning we’re doing ourselves, hand sanitisers all the way through the terminals, we’re very comfortable you don’t need social distancing on an aircraft.”
In another development on Wednesday morning, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt hinted that Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy backed Qantas’ stance.
On Tuesday, Qantas and Jetstar unveiled what it’s terming a “Fly Well” program of “wellbeing improvements” based on “best-practice medical advice” and customer feedback.
Qantas medical director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said then, “Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe.”