Qantas boss Alan Joyce has revealed that the airline is “optimistic” that it can return to 100 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity on its international network as soon as 2023 due to “pent up demand”.
It comes as Australia’s strict international border restrictions have eased dramatically for the first time since March 2020, with fully vaccinated Australians once again allowed to leave and enter the country freely.
Speaking with Sky News, Joyce stated that the “pent up demand” for travel both to and from Australia has already exceeded the airline’s expectations, and that Qantas is now expected to see demand for flights to be three times as high as usual throughout 2023.
Joyce said the airline is already working to quickly ramp up its domestic operations in line with easing border restrictions and is aiming to achieve 120 per cent of its domestic capacity by April 2022.
Internationally, by July 2022, Joyce expects to be operating at 60 per cent of the airline’s pre-COVID capacity, which will surge to 100 per cent in 2023.
Joyce clarified that by mid-2022, the airline will aim to service all routes on its pre-COVID network, however with less frequency and smaller aircraft, before conditions improve into 2023.
The Qantas CEO said that international travel will only remain subdued while destinations overseas continue to rollout the COVID vaccine to their populations, while flights to highly inoculated countries, including the UK and US, will be popular.
When the NSW government became the first to announce that it would reopen its international borders from 1 November, Qantas promptly moved forward its planned restart of international flights from Sydney to LA and London from mid-December to 1 November.
“Those flights filled up so fast, we had to add 20 more flights to London alone to meet the demand,” Joyce said.
The Qantas boss also reiterated the airline’s decision to fast-track the return of its Airbus A380 fleet from 2024 to April 2022, also in line with expected increasing demand.
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The new deadline for the first A380s’ return to service will mean that at least one A380 will be returned to Australian shores from long-term storage by the end of this year to begin the necessary preparations to get the aircraft and staff ready for flight.
However, demand domestically will not take as long to recover, Joyce said, particularly once double-jabbed tourists are allowed to return to Australia, with the country set to be a sought-after tourist destination thanks to its successful handling of the pandemic.
Qantas stated that the Qantas Group will supersede its pre-COVID domestic capacity and hit 120 per cent of its pre-COVID figures by April 2022, particularly in light of the demise of Jetstar’s biggest competitor, Tiger.
Qantas previously revealed that it had received over half a million domestic bookings in the last fortnight alone, compared to its usual 20,000 bookings per fortnight.
Rival Virgin Australia has also reported a 280 per cent increase in booking for international flights, and a 125 per cent increase in bookings for domestic flights, in recent weeks.
The news comes as Australia’s international borders were reopened to NSW, Victoria and ACT on Monday, and the federal travel ban on Australian citizens and residents from exiting the country without an exemption was lifted.
Qantas was among the first airlines to touch down in Sydney on Monday morning, carrying the first planeloads of travellers to enter the country without requiring to enter mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine in nearly two years.
In preparation of the international restart, Qantas earlier dramatically brought forward its planned start date for flights to numerous international destinations, in a move that will see all Australian-based staff returned to their roles by December.
Qantas had previously stated over 10,000 staff remained stood-down across the group, including 6,000 working in international operations, as border restrictions continued to suppress demand.
The airline announced that it will bring forward its planned return to flights from Australia to Singapore, Fiji, Johannesburg, Phuket and Bangkok, as well as introduce a brand-new direct route between Sydney and Delhi.
Qantas stated that the NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s decision to stray from the previously-announced national reopening plan and axe all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated arrivals – a decision that has since been replicated by both Victoria and ACT as well – has dramatically increased demand for travel.
The airline’s new route from Sydney to Delhi will begin on 6 December 2021, with three planned return flights per week on its Airbus A330 aircraft, with capacity expected to build to daily flights on this route by the end of the year.
Flights from Sydney to Delhi will involve one layover in Darwin, while the Delhi to Sydney leg will be nonstop.
The new route has been introduced to cater to the nearly 700,000 Indian migrants living in Australia, as well as their parents, who will soon be allowed to apply for an exemption to enter Australia as non-residents.
The route will continue until at least late March 2022, however, this could become a permanent part of Qantas’ international network, should demand require.
Meanwhile, the airline will begin flying Sydney to Singapore from 23 November, four weeks earlier than planned. Initially this service will be three times per week on A330 aircraft, which will ramp up to daily from 18 December.
Jetstar will also begin flying from both Melbourne and Darwin to Singapore from 16 December.
Qantas has also stated flights from Sydney to Fiji will be brought forward to 7 December 2021, 12 days earlier than previously announced. It will begin flying four return flights per week on a Boeing 737.
Meanwhile Jetstar will resume flights to Fiji from 17 December.
Qantas will perform three return flights per week from Sydney to Johannesburg from 5 January 2022, three months earlier than scheduled on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner, as well as five return flights per week to Bangkok on its A330s from 14 January 2022, two months ahead of schedule.
The airline will also return to Phuket on 12 January 2022, over two months earlier than planned, and perform three return flights per week on its Dreamliner.
The airline will also return 10 of its 12 Airbus A380s ahead of schedule and is in discussions with Boeing to accelerate the delivery of three brand new 787 Dreamliners.
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