Qantas will present its wrap of the 2020 financial year on Thursday August 20, with experts predicting the airline will squeak in a slim $25 million in profit compared to $912 million this time last year, buoyed by strong performance in the months before COVID-19 took hold.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs expect Qantas' overall before-tax earnings to land in the vicinity of $2.2 billion – a clean drop from the $3.52b of FY2019 but again, bolstered by the pre-pandemic stretch from July 2019 to January 2020.
Those seven months now seem blissfully normal, probably because they were exactly that: for Qantas, as with all other airlines, the 2020 financial year is going to comprised of two astoundingly, almost absurdly different halves.
In presenting the July-December 2019 results, CEO Alan Joyce said that even allowing for some softness in the domestic market and disruptions in Hong Kong from ongoing anti-Government protests, Qantas clocked a solid $771 million in underlying pre-tax profit and remained "in a strong position going forward."
Direct flights between Brisbane and Chicago were to launch in under eight weeks while the daily Perth-London service "continued to outperform."
The stage was set for Qantas to finally ink a deal for the ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets needed to mount ambitious non-stop Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and Melbourne to New York, London and Paris.
The arrival of COVID-19
The coronavirus was then a blip on the radar, albeit one which had already seen Qantas suspend flights from Sydney to Beijing and Shanghai starting February 9, with the first cases already reported in Australia after a Chinese national arrived from Guangzhou and Sydney and Melbourne residents returned from trips to China, having spent time in Wuhan.
On February 20 Qantas had reduced flights to Hong Kong and Japan and trimmed capacity to Singapore, with Joyce noting that the China-centric coronavirus was having "some secondary impacts with weaker demand" in those Asian markets, although "other key routes, like the US and UK, haven’t been impacted."
Exactly four weeks later, Joyce announced that Qantas was suspending all international flights from the end of March 2020 – a pause which is now set to stretch into the middle of 2021.
More than half of the January-June 2020 period will have seen Qantas reduced to a shadow of its former self, with even domestic flights hammered by border closures until it was flying at 5% of pre-pandemic levels, with the aim of slowly rebuilding capacity to reach 15% by the end of June.
The hardest year lies ahead
And as Qantas enters the 2021 financial year, the longest, hardest months are still to come.
The travel-boosting prospects of the hoped-for Australia-New Zealand 'bubble' have again been dashed, following a sudden spike in New Zealand infections after 100 days without community transmission.
Even on the domestic front, state border closures continue to wreak havoc on planning: Joyce observed last week that the airline remains pegged at 20% of pre-COVID capacity, not the 45% it hoped to see if border restrictions had softened.
This Thursday's FY2020 results will also arrive as Qantas prepares to send the bulk of its Boeing 787s to a storage facility at the edge of California's Mojave Desert, where the Dreamliners will be mothballed alongside the Airbus A380 fleet.
If there's any bright spot in the financials it'll come from the Qantas Loyalty division, which earns its coin from on-the-ground activities rather than flying and is likely to now be the most profitable part of Qantas.
Joyce may also offer an update on the three-year 'rightsize, restructure and recapitalise' plan announced in late June to raise almost $1.9 billion in equity and reduce costs by a staggering $15 billion. This will include a "domestic fleet optimisation", the specific shape of which has yet to be detailed.