Qantas has announced it will return five of its 12 Airbus A380s to service “ahead of schedule”, as it prepares for international borders to re-open in December.
The airline said it will use the five A380s to fly between Sydney and LA from July 2022, and between Sydney and London, via Singapore, from November 2022.
The airline had previously stated that while it was committed to retaining its A380 fleet, the four-engined jets were unlikely to return to service until 2023.
In total, Qantas expects 10 of its 12 A380s to be back to performing regularly scheduled services by early 2024, while the remaining two are to be retired.
All 10 returning A380s will have their interiors refurbished prior to their return to service.
Meanwhile, Qantas will take delivery of three new 787-9 Dreamliners that have remained undelivered and stored with Boeing during FY23, while Jetstar will welcome its first three A321neo LR aircraft also from FY23.
The airline will also extend the range of its A330-200 aircraft in order to operate some trans-Pacific routes such as Brisbane-Los Angeles and Brisbane-San Francisco.
The airline said this involves “some technical changes” to be finalised with Airbus.
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 closed international borders and more than 330 days of domestic travel restrictions had on the national carrier,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
It comes as the airline continues to prepare for international borders to re-open in December 2021, once Australia reaches its 80 per cent vaccination target.
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.
“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.”
On Wednesday, Australian Aviation revealed that one of Qantas’ A380s was flown from storage at LAX to a facility in Dresden, Germany, for maintenance ahead of its planned refurbishment.
VH-OQB is one of just two of Qantas’ superjumbos that were grounded at a purpose-built A380 hangar at LAX, rather than stored at the Victorville ‘boneyard’ in the California desert. The move suggests it could be among the first of Qantas’ A380s to return to regular passenger service, after being in storage since March 2020.
For the first time since then, VH-OQB took to the skies at 1:54pm on 19 August as flight QF6013, and took the 11-hour journey to Dresden Airport in Germany.
The plane was moved in order to undergo a scheduled landing gear update, according to Qantas, and will remain in storage at Dresden Airport, before undergoing a refurbishment ahead of its planned return to service.
Despite sending the majority of the airline’s A380 fleet to long-term storage in the desert, Joyce has repeatedly stated that the carrier will look to reactivate its entire fleet of A380s when the pandemic subsides.
In April, Joyce said each aircraft could potentially come back into service in as little as “three to six months”.
Earlier, in February, the Qantas chief executive said that it was “heartbreaking” to see the fleet stored in the Mojave Desert and insisted that curfews and expensive airport slots meant flying them will still be profitable.
“We have reconfigured six of them with brand new product onboards. In fact, one aircraft just being reconfigured flew directly to the Mojave Desert,” said Joyce at the time.
“It’s there with new seats on it and that nobody’s ever sat on, which is unbelievably disappointing. But we do think if you look at the Qantas’ network, there are going to be opportunities to deploy those aircraft.
“We do have scheduling windows, because if you if you’ve ever been in LA, at between 10 o’clock and midnight, you see six or seven Qantas aircraft departing to Australia, because it’s the only time that works with curfews, so instead of flying multiple frequencies right on top of each other.
“An A380, that’s fully or nearly fully written down, if it generates cash, will absolutely work. Airports that have slot restrictions, like Heathrow, where a slot is extremely expensive, then the aircraft works for that. And the similar scheduling windows that worked for Australia are unique.
“So we do believe there’s a need for that fleet. And we do believe that it will generate cash. And it’s all going to be about cash when we start up international [flights].”
VH-OQB was one of just two of Qantas’ 12 A380s that weren’t sent into storage at the notorious Victorville ‘boneyard’ in the California desert, the other being VH-OQD. Both were instead grounded at Qantas’ purpose-built A380 hangar at LAX.
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