Qantas today revealed that it does not expect international flights to resume until at least July 2021.
The grim outlook came as Qantas announced a $2.7 billion statutory loss before tax for the 2019-20 financial year. In today’s announcement, the national carrier said that its international network was “unlikely to restart before July 2021; possibly earlier for Trans Tasman”.
Last month, Qantas already cancelled all scheduled international flights (except to New Zealand) until the end of March 2021. Regular Qantas international flights are still currently scheduled to resume on 28 March 2021, however this is really just an arbitrary date aligned with the start of the IATA northern summer scheduling period. Realistically, this date will almost certainly be pushed back again at some point – as Qantas signalled today.
Qantas trans-Tasman flights are currently scheduled to resume on 25 October 2020. However, once again, this is also just an arbitrary date which marks the start of the IATA northern winter period. If the Australian and New Zealand governments haven’t removed quarantine requirements for trans-Tasman travel by October, this date will almost certainly be pushed back as well.
Australia’s borders remain closed
The Australian government continues to ban Australian citizens and permanent residents – even dual citizens – from leaving the country without a special exemption. This ban has already been in place for five months, and there is no indication of it being lifted any time this year. Even during this pandemic, it is highly unusual for a Western democracy to ban its own citizens from leaving for such a long period of time.
Meanwhile, non-Australian citizens and residents are banned from entering the country… and even Australians are finding it extremely difficult to get home due to draconian passenger quotas currently in place. There are now increasing calls for these policies to be reviewed.
There are still a limited number of airlines operating international flights to and from Australia, including Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. But in the context of Australia’s border closure and travel bans, it does not make economic sense for Qantas to resume international flights while travel is so restricted. It is very difficult for airlines to make money on long-haul flights when they are only allowed to sell 30 or 50 seats on an aircraft that seats over 300 passengers.
What about the “trans-Tasman bubble”?
There had been optimism that a “trans-Tasman bubble”, or quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand, could be launched as early as September 2020. But with the recent new outbreaks in Melbourne and Auckland, this will almost certainly be pushed back.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine that unrestricted travel to New Zealand would be allowed to resume while many of Australia’s states and territories have closed their own borders. Tasmania, Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory have all signalled that they could keep their borders shut for many more months. So this elusive trans-Tasman bubble could now be some way off.
It all hinges on a vaccine
Realistically, Qantas will not resume regular international flights until Australia reopens its international borders. There have been suggestions that Australians may be allowed to travel overseas again from January 2021 if they pay for their own quarantine upon return. But normal international travel is unlikely to resume until there is a vaccine.
There is some good news in this space. There are now around half a dozen vaccines in the third phase of trials, and initial results for some of these are promising. But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves – there are still no 100% guarantees that any of them will work. Until this happens, announcing that overseas travel is set to return is premature and irresponsible.
The Australian government is pinning its hopes on the Oxford vaccine, which it says will be offered to all Australians free of charge if proven to be safe and effective.
The government flagged yesterday that being vaccinated against COVID-19 may be a requirement to travel overseas or enter Australia in the future. We could see a system in the medium-term where overseas travellers are required to produce a COVID-19 vaccination certificate in addition to their passports.
Read more: Qantas 2019-20 Financial Results a Mixed Bag