Ongoing strict border rules, coupled with a slow vaccine rollout in Queensland and Western Australia will delay the recovery of Australia’s aviation and travel markets, according to the local head of Emirates.
Barry Brown, Emirates vice-president for Australasia, has said that despite Australia’s international borders reopening, and some of the country’s most populous states deciding to scrap quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers, Australia’s recovery is still lagging behind other markets.
Speaking with The Australian, Brown said that the NSW government’s decision to lead the way and scrap quarantine for overseas arrivals that are double-jabbed “gave us all some hope”.
“[Meanwhile], Victoria is making the right noises, but Queensland and Western Australia are going to keep us quite a way behind,” Brown said.
It comes as both the Queensland and Western Australian governments have announced they will keep stringent domestic and international border restrictions up against NSW and Victoria until their states reach the 90 per cent vaccination target in over 12-year-olds.
This could see Queensland remain closed to overseas arrivals and send domestic travellers into home quarantine until mid-December, while Western Australia’s plan could see it locked up from the eastern states and overseas arrivals until late January at the earliest.
In light of these major states delaying a full-scale return to pre-COVID capacity levels, Brown said it would be “at least 2023” before Emirates, and similar foreign carriers, reinstated their pre-COVID flight schedules in Australia.
Before the pandemic, Emirates was performing three flights per day into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
As operations to and from NSW, Victoria and the ACT continue to ramp up, Brown said airlines are already seeing demand spike, as Australians rush to get back overseas after nearly two years of locked borders.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Brown said. “The youth think they’re bulletproof so they’ve started booking already and other people are planning from mid-2022.”
Emirates has already announced that it will reinstate two daily services to Sydney from December and bring back its iconic A380s on flights between Sydney and its hub in Dubai.
Meanwhile, the carrier will also return to daily flights from Melbourne from 1 December on its Boeing 777s.
Emirates will continue to run its two to three services per week to Perth and Brisbane, to accommodate for the capped number of arrivals into both cities.
Speaking of arrival caps, Brown said while the airline is still “not really too sure” when caps will be dropped for both Queensland and Western Australia, “but when they’re ready, we’ll be ready to jump in”.
It comes after Emirates celebrated its 25th anniversary in the Australian market.
Despite having a long history of serving Australia, some question if Middle Eastern hubs will be as necessary in the post-pandemic travel environment, particularly as ultra-long-haul capabilities improve, and as Australian flag carrier Qantas prepares to introduce its long-awaited Project Sunrise flights.
However, Brown remains optimistic that Emirates and its Dubai hub will continue to service Australian passengers for years to come.
“We still see lots of life in the hub concept,” he said.
“Point to point is difficult to reach from Australia – we’re a long way away from many of the places people want to go to.
“I see Alan Joyce has pushed back his dates for ultra-long-haul travel so let’s see where that goes, but at the moment the hub is alive and well.”
Despite COVID-related delays, Qantas continues its preparations for the introduction of Project Sunrise, which would see regularly scheduled nonstop flights from destinations such as New York and London to Australia’s east coast.
Qantas was due to finalise a deal to purchase the 12 A350-1000s necessary to make the trip last year but pushed it back in 2020, as COVID grounded all international flights.
Nonetheless, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce reiterated the now-suspended plans could resume later this year, with a view to launching direct flights from London to Sydney in 2024.
In February, Joyce argued that Qantas is the only airline in the world with the ability to make ultra-long-haul, Project Sunrise-style flights profitable.
In an interview with Brussels-based Eurocontrol, Joyce said that this is because global airlines would only require a handful of aircraft to fly to Australia, whereas an Australia-based airline would require a bigger fleet allowing economies of scale to kick in.
“It is a unique opportunity for Qantas because Australia’s so far away from everywhere,” said Joyce. “And we could justify a fleet size of a significant amount of aircraft that makes it economic.
“We have three major cities on the east coast in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. And having flights to London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, from those cities, creates a significant sub fleet and economics of scale that we think will work really well.
“So, we’re still very keen on it. And we think that’s one of the big things that will change in the next decade and allow us to have a substantial competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce.”