Now that Qantas and Perth Airport have come to an agreement in their very public and long-running stoush over in fees, does this mean that non-stop Qantas flights from Perth to Paris, Frankfurt and potentially Johannesburg are back on the agenda?
Not quite. Obviously everything has changed in the past few months, and apart from New Zealand and other nearby Pacific Island neighbours, ranging from our own Norfolk Island to New Caledonia and Fiji, international travel isn't expected to return until sometime in 2021.
But travel won't automatically snap back to its 2019 state. Some countries will open up before others, some routes will remain off the map for longer than others, and some destinations will likely restart with just three or four flights per week rather than the immediate resumption of a daily schedule.
There could also be a leaning towards 'bubbles, corridors and air bridges' – routes carved between designed Covid-safe or low-risk countries, which could still rely on virus tests and so-called immunity passports before passengers can board their flight.
That said, how close are the prospects for Qantas to mark up non-stop Boeing 787 flights from Perth to Paris and Frankfurt? And might the almost-launched service from Perth to Johannesburg make it back onto the schedule?
Qantas vs Perth Airport
Qantas and Perth Airport have long been at loggerheads over the payment of airport fees and rent, with Qantas disputing the scope of the charges and an inability to reach accord with the airport's owners and pressing pause on plans for new routes into Europe and South Africa.
Almost a year ago, at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Seoul on June 3 2019, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said “today, we would be in the process of preparing for further services out of Perth into Europe – we would be ordering aircraft to do Perth to Paris, which would be the next one on our list, except for the fact that there’s a dispute with Perth Airport.”
“We’ll be very excited about doing Perth-Paris as the next cab off the rank," provided those disputes are resolved, he added.
Joyce also had his eye on a non-stop flight into Germany, with Frankfurt – which the airline previously flew via Singapore before axing the route in 2013 – sitting on the shortlist.
"Germany is still a big market and it's been hard for us in the past when we were flying through a hub, so the opportunity there is actually quite real."
A year before that, at IATA's Sydney AGM in June 2018, Qantas confirmed it had scrapped planned flights between Perth and Johannesburg due to disagreement with Perth Airport over which terminal the service would use.
Perth Airport has insisted that Qantas use the main international T1 terminal for the seasonal service to South Africa. However, Qantas planned to run the flights from the newly-developed international wing of its domestic T3/T4 terminal, which is used by the airline's flights to London and Singapore.
This would also streamline connection for Qantas' domestic passengers flying to Perth to make the journey to Jo'burg.
"We had planned to operate a seasonal service this November (20180 to March (2019), which would have put about 4,000 passengers a week through Perth," Alison Webster, then-CEO of Qantas International, told Executive Traveller on the sidelines of the aviation summit/
"We couldn’t operate it through Terminal 3 where the aircraft would in fact come in (from a domestic flight) and turn around, and towing (from T1) would make it completely logistically not okay."
Last week saw Qantas and Perth Airport announced they had reached a confidential agreement on the issue of outstanding fees, which Perth Airport claimed had reached $20 million.
"While the details are commercial in confidence, the agreement ensures Perth Airport and Qantas will be able to continue to support vital FIFO flights, freight services into and out of Western Australia, and repatriation flights to bring Australians home," read a joint statement.
"The agreement provides greater certainty for Perth Airport on the payment of aviation and lease charges while Qantas has secured a partial abatement of payments to the airport in light of the particular challenges facing its operations due to the coronavirus crisis."
The agreement will also see progress in the sale of the Qantas-owned Terminal 4 back to Perth Airport, provided they can agree on its value. Qantas has previously indicated it believes T4 is worth as much as $200 million, while Perth Airport pegs the price closer to $50 million.
Both parties will made submissions to an independent expert by June 30 so that a fair market value' can be determined.
Détente, not peace
However, one well-placed source described the current situation to Executive Traveller as a temporary cease-fire rather than an end to the war, given that Perth Airport still has a case against Qantas open at the WA Supreme Court over non-payment of aviation fees in 2018.
That continues to rankle the airline and has put a stopper in Qantas' plans to fully develop Perth into a unique West Australian hub for non-stop flights to Europe – flights which could become increasingly important now that Project Sunrise has been put on hold.
Referring to the battle over airport charges, Joyce said in June 2019 “until that’s resolved, we’re not going to reward bad behaviour. We don’t think that’s the right thing to do with our business, so unfortunately, we’re not expanding (out of Perth) at the moment."