Qantas CEO Alan Joyce doesn't expect the airline to resume international flights until mid-2021, with a return to the USA being reliant on a vaccine and likely to happen towards the end of 2021.
"We believe the earliest we're going to see the international borders opening up is the middle of next year," he said at a media briefing following the airline's revelation of a $2.7 billion loss for the 2020 financial year.
This included a $1.4 billion write-down on the value of its fleet, including all twelve Airbus A380s, which Joyce said would be "parked for at least three years."
"We've also put the (Boeing) 787s in long term storage, which are our other aircraft which fly transcontinental."
Since grounding all international flights at the end of March 2020, barring some repatriation flights to bring home Australians from overseas, Qantas has already pulled most international flights from its schedule through to March 2021.
Joyce said the restart of Qantas' international flights would likely be shaped by 'travel bubbles' on country-by-country basis "where you have similar level of exposure to the virus."
"New Zealand is an obvious example that should potentially open up relatively fast, compared to the other counties around the world."
"With the US, with the level of prevalence there it's probably going to take some time and probably going to need a vaccine before we could see that happening," Joyce elaborated.
"A lot of the medical advice we have, and governments around the world have, is that we could potentially see the vaccine by the middle (or) the end of next year."
"Countries like the US may be the first country to have widespread use of that vaccine, so that could mean that the US is seen as a market by the end of 2021."
The high cost of being grounded
But the lack of international flights is going to hit Qantas hard for the next 12 months, and will tilt the tables from the slim pre-tax profit of $124 million across the July 2019 - June 2020 financial year to an substantial loss measured in actual dollars rather than a paper write-down.
"We won’t have international for this financial year 21," Joyce explained. "International typically would generate $8 billion of revenue, so there’s a $8 billion hit in revenue to us this year without international."
And even when Australia's borders reopen and the Flying Kangaroo is once again hopping across the oceans, the recovery will be drawn out.
"Our forecast is for FY22, that’s July next year to the following June, that we'll be only at 50% of our pre-COVID international schedule."
None the less, Joyce still sees light at the end of the long dark stretch ahead.
"The Flying Kangaroo’s wings are clipped for now, but it’s still got plenty of ambition," he promised.
"Coming out of this crisis, we’ll be the only Australian airline that can fly long haul. We want to expand on that when our balance sheet allows, picking up where we left off with Project Sunrise."