Qantas has said that both international and domestic borders are on track to open by December 2021 off the back of Australia’s current fast-paced vaccine rollout.
According to projections completed by the airline, Australia is set to reach 80 per cent vaccination in its adult population by December, allowing both state and international border restrictions to ease.
However, Qantas did note that the international re-opening is likely to be “gradual”, with a focus on low-risk countries first, including those with high vaccination uptake including the UK, US, and parts of Asia.
From mid-December, Qantas and Jetstar will reinstate international schedules between Australia and low-risk countries, including Singapore, the US, Japan, the UK, Canada and Fiji.
The airline is also reinstating services between Australia and New Zealand, projecting a re-start of the currently paused trans-Tasman travel bubble, also in December.
Meanwhile, Qantas has pushed back its planned return to higher-risk destinations, such as Bali, Bangkok, Manila and Johannesburg, until April 2022.
“Levels of travel demand – and therefore, capacity levels – will hinge largely on government decisions on alternative requirements to mandatory hotel isolation for fully vaccinated travellers,” Qantas noted.
“The prospect of flying overseas might feel a long way off, especially in 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,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
“It’s obviously up to the 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 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.”
Earlier in the year, Qantas officially pushed back its intended start date for international routes from October to December, despite the federal government’s modeling suggesting borders would remain shut until mid-2022.
It comes as the airline posted a statutory loss before tax of $1.83 billion, largely driven by sudden and ongoing border closures in the second half of the financial year.
The airline said total revenue loss amounted to $16 billion for the full year due to COVID-related disruptions including prolonged international border closures and “multiple waves” of domestic border restrictions.
“This loss shows the impact that a full year of close international borders and more than 330 days of domestic travel restrictions had on the national carrier,” Joyce said.
The airline has been advocating for more Australians to step up and take the jab, in an ambitious bid to see Australia’s international borders reopen by the end of this year.
“We want to do everything that we can to ensure the borders domestically open and stay open and that we get international up and running,” the airline chief said.
He noted that Qantas still has around 6,000 of its staff, dedicated to the airline’s international network, stood down.
“And they will be stood down until we have the international borders reopened,” Joyce added.
The flag carrier has long been a strong advocate for vaccination, with Joyce repeatedly pledging that all international passengers on long-haul flights will require a COVID vaccine to fly.
He said in December that the airline has made the decision because it has a “duty of care to our people” and it would put “safety ahead of popularity”.
“As the Prime Minister said, it will become a binary choice for international travellers to either get the vaccine or quarantine for two weeks. And quarantine places are very limited,” said Joyce.
“Our position on this is clear. We have a duty of care to our people and our passengers, and once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services.
“There will be some exceptions for people who can’t – for medical reasons – take vaccines. And our flights to New Zealand will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID as well, just as domestic flights will be exempt.
“I acknowledge some people are opposed to vaccines in-principle. We respect that. But in return, we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.”