Qantas has ended its special government-underwritten repatriation flights to London and the USA, with the last of the subsidised international flights landed this morning from Los Angeles.
The Qantas Boeing 787 flights ran twice-weekly on the London-Perth-Melbourne route, with another red-tailed Dreamliner soaring each week between Los Angeles and Melbourne, and were the only remaining scheduled international Qantas services since the airline shut down all overseas routes at the end of March.
The airline confirmed the halt to Executive Traveller this morning, framing it as more of a pause than pulling the plug, depending on if the government opts to continue the 'international minimum viable network' program, which underwrites flights on selected overseas routes in much the same way as Australia's domestic and regional flights.
The last of Qantas subsidised international flights landed this morning from Los Angeles. The flights were operated a cost-recovery basis, with passenger revenue remitted to the government to offset cost of operations.
However, Qantas now indicates that its government-supported London and Los Angeles services won't be returning, although it remains ready to mount some 'ad hoc' international services if required.
"The temporary international network that Qantas was operating on behalf of the Federal Government has now ended," the airline said in a statement provided to Executive Traveller this afternoon.
"We were proud to have helped thousands of Australians return home as well as taking foreign nationals back in the other direction. We’re particularly grateful to the crew who operated these regular flights together with charters to various other countries over the past few months."
"We’re now working with government to coordinate their continued support of various domestic and regional routes. This will complement the network Qantas and Jetstar will be operating from mid-June by underwriting various destinations that would not otherwise be commercially viable and therefore helping maintain critical transport connections."
Virgin Australia has also suspended its weekly Brisbane-LAX flights, although a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Executive Traveller "we remain in discussions with the government and hope to have a new contract finalised soon."
Several international airlines now offer flights from Australia through to the UK and Europe on a commercial, non-underwritten basis – these includes Qatar Airways (via Doha), Emirates and Etihad Airways (via their hub airports at the UAE) and Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong).
Earlier Government-supported Qantas repatriation flights from Hong Kong and Auckland were stood down based on a reduction in "immediate demand", with Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand continuing to fly from those respective cities to Australia.
“To get Australians home as soon as possible, the Federal Government has worked with Qantas and Virgin Australia to maintain scheduled international passenger flights, including to London and Los Angeles," a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who also heads the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, told Executive Traveller.
"The Australian Government’s minimum international network provided a clear pathway for Australians to return home from abroad during a time of considerable uncertainty regarding the availability of commercial flights," the spokesperson added.
"The Government is reviewing the program noting there are now alternative commercial flight options available from London and Los Angeles."