Qantas could begin direct flights to South Korea and Taiwan in early next year if Covid-safe travel bubbles open up between those countries and Australia, as the airline adapts its international network to take advantage of new opportunities.
However, flights the US and the London will likely remain grounded "until the end of 2021" pending the arrival of a vaccine.
Addressing the airline's annual general meeting today – an event based in Sydney but run as a virtual AGM due to the pandemic – Chairman Richard Goyder said the airline is monitoring fresh destinations which won't require travellers to enter quarantine on their return to Australia.
"Both Qantas and Jetstar are keeping a close eye on new markets that might open up as a result of these bubbles, including places that weren’t part of our pre-COVID network," Goyder remarked.
"By early next year, we may find that Korea, Taiwan and various islands in the Pacific are top Qantas destinations while we wait for our core international markets like the US and UK to re-open."
Goyder noted that even on the domestic front the airline was "adding new destinations that suddenly make sense – and it’s the kind of flexibility we need to make the most of any cash positive opportunities in the year ahead."
To date, the only direct flights from Australia to Taiwan – specifically to the capital Taipei – have been run by Taiwan's China Airlines and EVA Air, while Cathay Pacific has been a popular option with flights via its Hong Kong hub.
Likewise, Korean Airlines and Asiana have long enjoyed the lion's share of direct flights between Australia to Seoul, although Jetstar launched flights from the Gold Coast to Seoul in 2019.
Qantas has previously flown to South Korea and Taiwan as far back as 1999, including a seasonal Brisbane-Seoul service over the 2005-2006 northern winter.
On a more longstanding basis, Qantas offered codeshare flights with China Airlines to Taipei and with Asiana to Seoul, with frequent flyers able to book these through Qantas under a QF flight number to earn points and status credits.
US, UK by the end of 2021 – maybe...
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has already said the bulk of the airline's overseas travel will not begin to return until the second half of 2021, and today forecast that a return to the US and London is still at least a year away.
"For some of our big destination like the United States and the UK, it's going to need a vaccine given the high prevalence of the virus in both of those locations," Joyce said at today's AGM.
"But we are getting more and more confident about the opportunities and the potential for a vaccine in helping getting those operations up by potentially by the end of 2021."
Joyce also reaffirmed his confidence in Project Sunrise – the ambitious plan for non-stop flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to the likes of London, Paris and New York, along with Frankfurt, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro.
Project Sunrise, and an initial order for up to twelve ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets, was set to be given the green light by Joyce and the Qantas board mere weeks before the pandemic took hold in early 2020, with a planned launch by mid-2023.
"We are still very keen, once we have repaired our balance sheet, on Project Sunrise which will allow us to fly from the eastern states directly to destinations around the globe. We think in a post-Covid world the business opportunities for those routes will be quite immense."