Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has issued what appears to be a stinging rebuke of Qantas’ decision to sell international tickets for travel from 1 July.
In a terse statement sent to the media on Tuesday afternoon, McCormack said, “International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians. Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government.”
It comes after Qantas began selling tickets across all of its global network today and said the decision reflected “our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021”.
“The health and safety of Australians remains the Morrison-McCormack government’s top priority,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said.
“International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians.
“Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government.
“The Australian government is working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections.
“Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines.”
Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.
Qantas’ decision to sell tickets was surprising given October 2020’s federal budget revealed the government isn’t planning for international travel to return until the latter part of 2021.
However, it also follows increasing optimism that the COVID crisis could end in the next few months, with the UK, US and Israel in particular rapidly increasing their vaccination programs.
Tickets for flights departing on 1 July and returning at the end of the month range from $3,400 return from Sydney to London; and $2,000 from Sydney to New York (La Guardia).
Qantas’ move also comes shortly after it said it would launch a new business with Japan Airlines in July.
The deal will involve an expanded codeshare relationship, additional flights, new routes and collaboration on pricing.
It comes after Australian Aviation reported comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in October 2020 suggesting Japan could be one of the first locations the country will open to.
The two airlines said they had already submitted an application for authorisation to regulators in Australia and New Zealand, with a decision due within six months.
Any attempt by Qantas to completely restart its network is likely to be hampered by its decision to ground many of its aircraft in long-term storage.
Currently, all 12 of its A380s are in hibernation, with six of those having been upgraded beforehand.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said that the A380s “have to remain on the ground for at least three years until we see those international volumes brought back”.
“The aircraft are being put into the Mojave Desert, where the environment protects the aircraft (because) we have the intention at the right time to restart them, but that is a considerable amount of time away,” said Joyce.