Widespread vaccination in the USA and the UK could see Qantas restart flights to those key markets earlier than the Government's proposed mid-2022 timeframe.
Qantas has twice been forced to push back the reopening of most international flights due to ongoing border closures, and now shows the bulk of its overseas network suspended until late December
Airline CEO Alan Joyce expects to have more certainty on that in the coming months, and says that Qantas flights to the USA and London might resume sooner rather than later.
"A few months ago I thought maybe Singapore, Taiwan (and) Japan would be the first cabs off the list," Joyce told Nine's Today show on Monday morning.
"But with the great progress that's been made in the US and the UK you may actually see those markets opening up before the rest, because the vaccine rollout's been so successful in both countries."
"We're still talking to Government about it, we're still planning to be ready at the end of this year, we're activate the aircraft, we're training our crew... I'm hopeful that by the time we get to July-August we'll have some certainty on which markets will open and when they'll open up."
For its part, the Government is planning to let fully-vaccinated Australians travel overseas as part of a pilot program which could launch in August.
The scheme could allow them to fly to selected countries, including low-risk destinations, and return without facing quarantine provided they show a negative COVID result on arrival.
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The US and UK flights would feature the Qantas Boeing 787-9s as the airline's de facto flagship until the first Airbus A380 superjumbos are brought out of hibernation, potentially from the end of 2023.
"With early retirement and people taking leave without pay, we actually have scale to crew six of the aircraft," Joyce told Executive Traveller earlier this month.
"If they do come back in when we expect them, at the end of 2023, we'll activate the first six aircraft very rapidly because we’ll have the pilots to do it."
The requirements for Australians flying into countries as they reopen their own borders could range from undergoing COVID-19 tests both before departure and on arrival, to mandating that only passengers who've been fully vaccinated can travel.
Joyce has previously declared that vaccination will be compulsory for all Australians stepping onto an international Qantas flight when those flights resume, although exceptions would be made for some 'bubble' destinations similar to the current arrangement with New Zealand.
"Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services," he stated in December 2020.
"For international visitors coming out, and people leaving the country, we think that's a necessity."