Qantas and Virgin Australia hope to resume their stalled flights to Tokyo's 'downtown' Haneda Airport once travel restrictions are eased, according to documents published by the International Air Services Commission (IASC).
The IASC – a federal government body which oversees Australia's international airline activity, including routes and airport takeoff and landing slots – had previously granted each airline a berth at Tokyo Haneda in the lead-up to the Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games, on the basis that flights began by March 29, 2020.
Qantas opted to have its Melbourne-Tokyo service move from Tokyo's distant Narita Airport to Haneda Airport, while Virgin Australia chose to open a fresh Brisbane-Tokyo route and forge a new partnership with Japan's ANA.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Australian border closure threw those plans into disarray, forcing Virgin to scrap its Brisbane-Tokyo inaugural just weeks before takeoff.
In two resolutions published today, the IASC notes that "due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, including current travel restrictions put in place by the Australian Government in March 2020," both Qantas and Virgin Australia have "not been able to commence the new services to and from Tokyo-Haneda."
Each airline has also "requested the issue of a resolution extending the date for utilisation of the capacity from 31 October 2020 to 31 October 2021, or such other date as subsequently approved by the Commission."
Pushback on restart dates
While the IASC has formally declared that the new Tokyo Haneda routes must be flown "from no later than 31 March 2021", Executive Traveller understands that the commission will meet with representatives of Qantas and Virgin Australia in early 2021 to consider a further extension.
That decision will be shaped by the government's own forecast of travel restrictions for 2021 as well as each airline's plans to resume flights between Australia and Japan.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has previously suggested that with some exceptions such as New Zealand, the airline is unlikely to resume international travel until the second half of 2021.
Virgin needs Tokyo-ready planes
Qantas could reboot its Asian routes relatively quickly with either Airbus A330 or Boeing 787 jets.
However, the decision by Virgin Australia's new owner Bain Capital to scrap the Airbus A330 jets earmarked for Brisbane-Tokyo has left Virgin without any suitable aircraft in its fleet – meaning that Bain would need to either lease or buy jets to take up the route.
Although Virgin's short-term focus is on domestic routes, the airline has previously maintained that international travel remains on the to-do list.
Before collapsing into administration in April 2020, Virgin flew Boeing 777 jets from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles, and had axed its Airbus A330 flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong in favour of the new Brisbane-Tokyo route.
"We remain in discussions with aircraft manufacturers on a fleet strategy to support the reintroduction of widebody services when long-haul international travel demand returns," a Virgin Australia spokesman told Executive Traveller.