Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has hinted the business could purchase the Airbus A350-1000s necessary to fly Project Sunrise routes at the end of the year.
“People in the post-COVID world will want to fly direct, which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-COVID,” said Joyce at the Reuters Next conference on Wednesday. “At the end of 2021, we can revisit [Project Sunrise] and look at what’s the appropriate time.”
In March, Qantas agreed to a deal with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) for its members to fly the London and New York to Sydney/Melbourne routes. However, later that month its order for the 12 A350-1000s was pushed back as the COVID crisis grounded all international flights.
Joyce said that while the business would “obviously” not put in an order until international markets recover, he was still “very optimistic” about Project Sunrise.
He added that the slightly shorter Perth-London 787s flights were the “best route on our network” and expected the same for those to the eastern states of Australia.
Project Sunrise has not been without its controversies, with AIPA president Mark Sedgwick hinting last year that the COVID-19 crisis played a part in pilots agreeing on a deal to fly the long route.
“This is an incredibly uncertain time for our members, with many stood down from flying on no pay, with no end in sight,” said Sedgwick. “When we return to flying, our expert pilots will be at the helm as part of Qantas’ ultra long-haul services.”
The vote brought to an end a bitter wrangle between the two camps, with Joyce at one stage threatening to bring in Chinese pilots to fly the aircraft if no deal could be struck.
Meanwhile, Joyce also confirmed at Reuters Next that Qantas will operate at 60 per cent domestic capacity due to border closures, and not the 80 per cent previously estimated.
“Our forecast now is for the third quarter for the financial year … will be at 60 per cent of pre-COVID domestic capacity levels,” said Joyce.
Earlier on Thursday, Australian Aviation reported how Virgin has extended its policy of waiving change fees from 31 January to 30 June in light of recent border changes.
Significantly, this makes its new rules far more generous than Qantas, which still gives passengers flight credit but asks them to pay a charge before making a new booking.
Virgin Australia’s new policy means passengers who book before the 31 March for travel until the 30 June can make unlimited changes without incurring any fees.
Qantas’ equivalent deal has now effectively expired for new bookings, meaning customers have to pay a change fee though will retain the value of the ticket as a flight credit.