Qantas will launch a sweeping review of its entire international fleet to shape the airline around post-coronavirus travel demand, with some aircraft expected to be retired rather than returning to service.
That list is likely to include the iconic Boeing 747, which was already due to be stood down by the end of 2020, and could also encompass some of Qantas' 12-strong Airbus A380 superjumbo fleet.
“The Qantas of 2021 and 2022 will not be the Qantas of 2019,” predicted Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, who spoke to media this morning to present an update on how the airline is dealing with the ongoing impact of COVID-19. "We’re looking at the scope and scale of our businesses going forward."
In the short term, this will see Qantas continue its suspension of domestic and international flights until mid-year.
"We don’t know how long domestic and international travel restrictions will last or what demand will look like as they’re gradually lifted," Joyce reflected.
However, what's expected to be a very gradual recovery will mean rethinking the size and make-up of Qantas' extensive international fleet.
“We haven’t made any decisions,” Joyce added, explaining that the outcome of the review would “depend on when international markets open” back up, with the airline working through a variety of scenarios.
Fewer Airbus A380 superjumbos?
"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Joyce says of the airline's flagship jets. "That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like.”
Being the largest aircraft in the Qantas fleet, the A380 superjumbo is the hardest to fill, and normally appears on busy flights between Australia and the United States, as well as to Singapore and London.
The challenge for Qantas is that “we don’t know when the big markets like the US and the UK, which use the A380s, will open, and when,” Joyce explains to Executive Traveller. “We are keeping our options open," he added.
But plans to refurbish the remaining six jets have been halted to free up cash in the short term, and reduce what could prove to be unnecessary spend over a longer period, until it’s clear how many A380s will be needed going forward.
Joyce also confirmed that ambitious plans for non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London, Paris and New York have been put on ice, along with an order for the Airbus A350-1000 jets which would have tackled the marathon 18-20 hour journeys.
"We do think there is a huge potential for Project Sunrise but the time is not right now, given the impact that COVID-19 has had on world travel," Joyce reflected. "But we do think there's still a good business case for it, and a good opportunity."
Boeing 747s continue to face an uncertain future
Like some of Qantas’ A380s, its older Boeing 747 jumbos may not return to the skies at all, except to fly into retirement.
“There is a likelihood that they won’t come back,” says Joyce, while remaining optimistic that they could still fly again if conditions change.
“There’s still the possibility, if there was the demand for it, that the Boeing 747s could fly by the end of the year – but we are planning to retire them at the end of the year.”
Qantas also uses a mix of Airbus A330s, Boeing 787s and Boeing 737s on international routes, as well as QantasLink Dash 8-Q400s on the short hop from Cairns to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.