Preflight COVID-19 tests could restart international travel and remove the need for quarantine, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says, even before a vaccine is widely available.
And with the airline expecting to take an $8 billion revenue hit in the 2021 financial year due to the lack of overseas flights, Joyce is embracing the latest developments as “reason to be optimistic.”
“There’s some great developments in testing that could resolve the issue of people needing to go into quarantine,” he noted at today's CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit.
Those tests are “potentially super-fast, 15 minutes or so,” Joyce recounted, “to test whether you’re exposed to COVID-19, which means if you pass there’s no need to be in quarantine at the other end.”
This would unlock countries “that have like levels of transmission – New Zealand, maybe Japan, maybe some counties in Asia – then you could see ‘bubbles’ opening up one by one.”
Beyond quick trips to New Zealand and other nearby destinations, Qantas’ international network would initially rely on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Joyce said, with the Airbus A380s unlikely to return until 2023 or 2024.
“The 787s will be the right aircraft coming out of COVID, because it will give us a very broad network with a good mix of premium cabins, and allows us to operate routes that avoid stopovers like Perth to London and Perth to Paris, which we think there’ll be an even a bigger business case for doing post-COVID.”
As for the Airbus A380s, which are now parked for long-term storage at California’s Mojave Desert, “we don’t see the demand for them coming back until 2023-2024… but when the market recovers the A380s will be profitable (and) I believe these will fly again.”
With COVID firmly and finally in the rear view mirror, Joyce sees that Qantas – one which he expects to be saving “a billion dollars a year” through dramatic restructuring now underway – would be ready to “reinvest in projects like Sunrise, in more Boeing 787s, and start growing again.”
Sunrise still on the horizon
“We were literally a couple of weeks away from ordering the aircraft” for Project Sunrise, Joyce revealed, with an initial contract for up to twelve ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000s sitting on the table.
Joyce believes the appeal of flying from Sydney and Melbourne to the likes of London, New York and Paris and Frankfurt without a stopover will be even stronger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – and by then, shopping for new aircraft will be a buyer’s market.
“We will at the appropriate time, when we’ve helped fix our balance sheet, look at ordering those aircraft, and I’m very keen – not many people will be ordering aircraft probably when Qantas is, so there will be opportunities for us to get even better deals than we did in the past.”
This will also tie in with a delayed plan to renew Qantas’ domestic fleet: a prize which both Airbus and Boeing will eagerly contest.
“Probably in the next few years is the perfect time to do that,” Joyce suggested. “This is a good time for airlines that can afford it, to position themselves for the future.”