Qantas CEO: rapid preflight COVID tests could restart overseas travel

Passport, boarding pass, the all-clear from a 'super-fast' COVID test and you'd be all set to fly, suggests Alan Joyce.

By David Flynn , September 2 2020
Qantas CEO: rapid preflight COVID tests could restart overseas travel

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.”

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce sees reasons for optimism.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce sees reasons for optimism.

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.”

The Boeing 787s will be the hero of Qantas' relaunched international network.
The Boeing 787s will be the hero of Qantas' relaunched international network.

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.”

Read more: How Qantas will hibernate its Airbus A380 for the next three years

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.”

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 950

A 15 minute Covid test that can identify small traces of virus without missing any, so with no false negatives is certainly the holy grail. Alan you’re dreaming!!!!

Haha, wishful thinking. A full refund no doubt when we test positive and are dragged away by the AFP.

Profoundly thrilling 15 minutes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 60

Is anyone aware of evidence-based medicine that supports this possibility?

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

I can do COVID Antibodies in 20minutes 😁

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 950

Neon the antibodies come along after the virus has been around a while that is why people prefer to test for the virus itself. Fewer false negatives.

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

Correct sampling is so important for the PCR. I am really dreading the volume of antibody testing we will be doing after the vaccine is released! The volume of swab processing is already stretching all resources! The silver lining is that hospitals have had record low admissions for other respiratory conditions! Social distancing, etc for the win 😁

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2014

Total posts 165

As far as I'm aware, the quickest tests currently available (that are reliable) are around the hour mark. And they require expensive specialised equipment, proprietary chemical testing cassettes, and experienced staff. 

Also, like all COVID tests, pre-symptomatic people may not show as positive (which is why there is a 14 day quarantine period even when people return a negative test).

Finally, there would surely need to be some kind of insurance or flexibility so that if you did test positive and couldn't get on your flight, you would be able to get a refund on flights, accommodation etc ... otherwise, only the super rich, the desperate or the foolish would book knowing they could be flushing their money down the drain.

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

Last week we had a Hotel Quarantine return a positive on day 12. All the previous swabs were negative.

21 Dec 2016

Total posts 36

It's alright - Qantas has figured out that the best way to run an airline is to not fly until everyone else is bankrupt, and then jump in again.  They're happy to be the Australian carrier that doesn't fly to or from Australia, and instead just run a mediocre frequent flyer program for a population that earns all of their points by shopping at Woolies.

24 Jun 2015

Total posts 10

Yup and our armchair ceo here thinks airlines should be flying when state and international borders are closed... 

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 950

Nyjoe, with only 30-50 seats allowed on an in bound flight an negligible Aussies on an outbound it is hard to see where the traffic you are suggesting is there for Qantas is coming from.

QFF

16 May 2016

Total posts 60

There are almost 100,000 (reportedly) Australians trying to return, estimated to take four months. the outbound flights have surprising high loads. 

QFF

16 May 2016

Total posts 60

A valid point. The only airlines bringing Australians back to Australia right now are foreign carriers, QR, UA mainly. And if the Govt doesn't increase the passenger caps then they may withdraw these flights too. Then what???

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 488

September is D - Month, the longer it takes to start the economy after September the quantifying of loss to GDP for the years to come. I would be realising vaccines to everyone at stage 3.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 488

releasing

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Jul 2011

Total posts 47

What vaccines?

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

A number of vaccines are already in advanced stages of trials in Australia. 

03 Sep 2020

Total posts 1

Vital information on this vital subject ....

https://youtu.be/kDj4Zyq3yOA

Industry cannot wait for nor rely upon a vaccine, pre-flight testing (rapid or otherwise), together with other measures is the only way our crucial airline industry can safely resume its globally vital role. But where are ICAO and IATA on this? It is these two influential bodies that have a duty to promote the uniform, standardised utilisation of such measures. Only by having a globally standardised COVID safe system, will public confidence be restored. Industry did exactly that post 9/11, time to do it again, quickly! 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 94

I always thought in Qantas’ portfolio, domestic travel is far more profitable by far and until recently international routes had trouble competing with other airlines even with the protectionism of international routes supported by government politics. 

Which is why I am surprised by his push for international travel here although I suppose it was tailored for a meeting with an international crowd and the costs of wide body planes meant they are far more expensive to keep on the ground than in the air.

I seriously doubt Qantas will want to be involved in the actual testing and certification since it would involved a large testing area in the airport so if such a scheme is going to be required they would likely to pass the ball to international airport (not border force) and the bill to the pax of course

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 263

Surely there must be quite a crowd of people who have had the virus and could start traveling again, could it be that those already infected and had few effects will be the first to start traveling again, would then Australia and NewZealand be the last on that list as the rest of the world resumes flights.

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

So many assumptions in one comment!

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 950

GBRGB you may be right but the question is how long does immunity last. From those known cases of reinfection that have been looked at it could be as little as 3-4 months, and if the second infection is milder to the host they could become an unknown super spreader....to many risks.

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

Many unknowns. Some develop antibodies faster than others. The levels they develop is also quite variable. Some have had a positive PCR result (from a private lab) but a week later a negative PCR in our lab and antibody negative.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 263

I wasn’t really referring to immunity, but rather those people who didn’t have any symptoms or very few and aren’t concerned about catching it again, they will be happy to travel, millions of those in the world 

31 Jul 2018

Total posts 21

As Patrikk says, an army of super spreaders! 😅 I just hope it gets sorted soon. Places to be! 

03 Sep 2020

Total posts 1

I'm not concerned about leaving OZ, what happens if you test positive before you board your return flight?  2 weeks stuck in quarantine, your holiday just became a whole lot more expensive!!

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 950

Pzdipr, not the best time to take an o/s holiday what with quarantine and only business class fares coming back.

10 Aug 2020

Total posts 12

International borders and Travel should be opened.. it's obviously manageable. It seems to be ok for sport's stars and celebrities.. I'm sure there's many people who would like to leave and not return.. people should have the right to atleast leave if they choose.. 

P1
P1

24 Apr 2017

Total posts 57

Not a chance, his "rapid tests" will be like 3-5 hours for a result.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Nov 2018

Total posts 3

But exactly that is what is needed and our efforts should go into a test that only takes less than 30mins for a result.

11 Jul 2020

Total posts 34

Before Alan Joyce jumps on the International bandwagon with rapdi covid-19 tests, perhaps he should get the protocols for domestic travel within Australia in order for both Qantas and Jetsar. 

A few days ago now, a woman from Melbourne with her 4 kids flew on a Jetstar flight from Melbourne via Adelaide, trying to get to Alice Springs. She has tested positive for the coronavirus on arrival into SA and did not have the correct border paperwork to enter SA, she had none at all, they are all in hotel quarantine courtesy of  SA tax payers.

Shouldn't the airlines be checking for the approipate border paperwork when a passenger presents their boarding pass to board their flight and refuse them boarding if they do not have it? Or is it, we have you money for you airfares thanks and this is where the airline's obligation ends, with no accountability of who they let travel?

Alan Joyce wants rapid covid-19 tests, what a joke, when he can't do his bit for each Australian state and the people who live within these states by enfocing the border conditions for each state by making sure each passenger has the appropriate border paperwork, so those of us in these states these passengers are traveling to, can enjoy some sort of normality because we have followed the rules set out by our local government.

The airlines must ensure checks and balances have been completed for each boarding passenger. If any or all the states within Australia get a 2nd wave or a 3rd wave of covid-19 due to lack of testing if we end up going down this route and or appropriate paperwork, prior to boarding their flight the airline industry will suffer as well.

Will Alan Joyce compensate all the businesses that are forced into lock down and will probably go broke? Will he compensate all workers who are forced to isolate at home once again because the businesses they work for are shut once again or worse gone broke and these workers are now unemployed?

Alan Joyce needs to be reminded that the Avation industry is but one of the thousands of industries we have in this country that generate revenue for our economy, all of which are in jepdody if any state has a 2nd or 3rd wave of covid-19.

Can you get Covid-19 again? A person in Wuhan, China who contracted Covid-19 at the beginning of pandemic has tested positive again 5 months later, so it looks like they had no longterm immunity from catching COVID-19 again.

There is so much we all don't know about Covid-19. Can it remain active for a long period of time or dormant and reactivate? can it mutate into a different strain? Does covid-19 leave some people with underlying health issues in their future, when they had none before? I remain hopeful we will have a vaccine for Covi9-19 by March 2021.

I can see travel insurance companies not giving anyone travel insurance who has not had the covid-19 vaccination once a vaccine is available and we get back to some sort of normal. I can see them asking for proof, that you have had the vaccine jab.

I definitely will be having the covid-19 vaccine jab when its avaliable.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 950

Well said 


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