Qantas puts international bookings onhold until 2021

A Qantas Airways plane after taking off from the Sydney Airport in Sydney on March 19, 2020.

Qantas has sacked about 20 percent of its workforce and stopped taking new bookings for international flights until at least March next year.

A Qantas Airways plane after taking off from the Sydney Airport in Sydney on March 19, 2020.
Photo: AFP / Saeed Khan

Last month, group chief executive Alan Joyce had signalled the move, and announced the carrier would ground about 100 aircraft and parked some of the A380s for “at least three years”.

Yesterday, the Australian national carrier officially removed international flight bookings – bar New Zealand – from their website until 28 March, 2021.

Aviation commentator Geoffery Thomas told Checkpoint the outlook was grim, but people still wanted to travel and it was needed as an economic enabler for the tourism industry.

“One of the things that we’re hoping for is that maybe we can do a travel bubble that involves WA, the Northern Territory and New Zealand, and exclude New South Wales and Victoria until such time they get the Covid cases down to zero.

“We can’t stay in isolation forever, we have to get moving and have to work around these issues.”

Thomas said Qantas’ move would definitely help save on costs of crew and fuel. 

“There’s no chance that they’re going to operate [aircraft] at a loss … you’ll go out of business very quickly doing that.”

The airline has parked its grounded aircraft in the US’s Mojave Desert, which Thomas said was an ideal place for long-term storage of planes.

“A lot of planes are going to the Californian desert, there’s lots of aircraft parks there which is set up for cocooning aeroplanes and maintaining them.

“Because that’s a big part of it, there’s a lot of day-to-day or week-to-week maintenance required to make sure these airplanes are in perfect condition so you need the engineer facilities to make that happen.”

It appeared New Zealand and Australian airlines were taking on a difficult dynamic to simulate travel for the tourism industry while also struggling to make ends meet, Thomas said. 

Meanwhile for travellers elsewhere, “the philosophy appears to be suppression of Covid is acceptable and we’ll live that.”

“Air travel globally is now approximately 50 percent what it was pre-Covid times, so US, China, Europe, they’re all travelling.”

Thomas said there had been a very significant bounce back, with travel down just 45-50 percent on pre-Covid levels, compared to the International Air Transport Association’s earlier figure of 90 percent. However, in the trans-Tasman it was probably down to 10-15 percent, he said.

Although, Qantas said it would be reviewing the international flight services in July next year.

Thomas said it must be a “nightmare” for the management of airlines now to be making decisions in a situation that was changing daily.

“These decisions are being made on a daily basis, these airlines need to make decisions on a monthly or three-monthly basis. Because bringing an airplane out of cocoon, for instance, you’ve got a Boeing 777 or 787 that’s in cocoon – it’s 1000 man hours of work to bring it out of that state. 

“And then you’ve got crew that are out of hours, they’ve got to go back into the simulator and do sessions, they’ve got to do refresher courses, there’s so many things to come to bear in [mind when] bringing a fleet and its crew back to flying status.”

Airlines had to take their time in order to do things safely and responsibly, he said.

But whether or not this meant it was the end of cheap fares, was yet to be seen, he said.

“We need those cheap fares, [to simulate the tourism industry]. In the longer term, I believe the momentum we’ve always had of fares becoming more and more affordable will continue, but we’re in probably for a year or so of very turbulent fares, where sometimes they’re very expensive, sometimes they’re very cheap, it’s going to be hard to pick.”

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