Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is hopeful the airline will resume some international flying by the end of this year, although a broader restart of the international network is clearly now a 2022 scenario.
However, he says the airline won't rush into shifting its current plan to resume flights to most international destinations from December 2021 until there's more certainty on when the necessary vaccination targets will be met.
"It's clear when we get to 80% of the eligible adult population being vaccinated that some international (travel) will start," Joyce told Executive Traveller today, "and that is a possibility still, depending on how successful the rollout is... some forecasts say that could be achieved by the end of the year."
"So our original date, by December, still could be feasible and we're still keeping that capability there just in case."
Joyce flagged that this timeline would be revisited as the national vaccination rollout progresses and "as we get more certainty" over when Australia would hit the 80% milestone which would trigger the government's Phase C and allow international travel.
"We can't say today because we don’t know when that 80% will be achieved, so we're keeping that date today."
"As we see the vaccination rollout achieving the targets the government has set, and have the confidence levels about when those thresholds are going to be reached, we will then update our forecast (but) we're not moving the date until we get a lot closer to when those targets will be met."
New pre-conditions for travel
An added complication will be the restrictions being imposed by different countries on inbound travel, which can limit arrivals to fully vaccinated travellers but also favour visitors from 'low risk' countries where Covid-19 is considered to be largely under control.
"It's very hard to forecast at the moment when markets will open up," Joyce added, citing one example of "equivalent levels of vaccination between countries... so there'll be be a lot of markets that we could open up, we just don’t know which ones and when."
"We have to keep an open book, with the open capability that some of this (travel) could be possible by the end of the calendar year."
Qantas' international flights have been largely grounded since March 2020, with the exception of a series of government-backed repatriation flights and the short-lived travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, which launched in April 2021 but is now closed until at least late September due to Australia's current outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta strain.
Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan have also been discussed over the past 12 months as potential travel bubbles, although each country continues to face its own challenges through local outbreaks.
As previously reported, Qantas will introduce the Travel Pass 'digital health' smartphone app – sometimes also called a vaccination passport – for international flights, with the ability to securely store and present proof of Covid vaccination as well as the results of pre-departure Covid tests.
This will launch as a stand-alone app, although a Qantas spokesperson tells Executive Traveller that the airline is also looking to integrate Travel Pass functionality into the airline's own smartphone app so that passengers would eventually need just the one app.
Joyce has also declared that vaccination will be compulsory for all Australians stepping onto most international Qantas flights when those flights resume.
"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."
Also read: Will the Qantas Airbus A380 ever fly again?