What Can We Expect To See From Australian Aviation In 2022?

After nearly two years of trouble for Australian aviation, early signs are 2022 will be a cracker of a year in the industry. There are many changes scheduled – possibly more than a recovering market can handle. That’s likely to make the upcoming year an eventful one.

Early signs are 2022 will be an interesting year in Australian aviation. Photo: Getty Images

Reopening borders will encourage a resurgence in international airline activity, but will the airlines get the passenger numbers they need? Australia’s national airline Qantas has some decisions to make with long-term ramifications. Flying locally? It’s going to be a bumpy ride for airlines but probably a cheap ride for passengers.

Absent international airlines resume their Australian services

After nearly two years of closed borders and travel restrictions, 2022 will be the year Australia reopens to travelers – but only if they are fully vaccinated. Hopefully, the ability to travel to and from Australia relatively freely will see AWOL international airlines return.

Since early 2020, many airlines have maintained scaled-back flights into Australia in the face of formidable obstacles (honorable shoutouts here to the big three US airlines, the Gulf airlines, multiple Asia-based carriers, and of course, Air New Zealand).

Others vacated the field. Among that number was Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas. Recently, Qantas has resumed some scheduled international flying. As Australia loosens its border restrictions, some other absent airlines are eyeing a return.

Many of those absent international airlines are small, low-profile airlines operating out of the South Pacific. But these are also some big-name carriers in the mix. British Airways, LATAM, South African Airways, and AirAsia X are still absent from Australian airports.

In November, Sydney Airport said 21 airlines had stopped flying regularly scheduled international services to and from the airport since March 2020. However, the airport also said it expected 11 of those airlines to be back by the end of January.

Omicron may slow the restart of some services and see Australia’s staged border reopening slightly delayed, but it’s inevitable Australia’s full border reopenings will occur this year. There’s some momentum behind the reopening, and more critically, there is now a desire in Australia’s national capital to see Australia reopened.

British Airways is eyeing a return to Sydney in March 2022. Photo: British Airways

The A380s are back

The A380 is back! Well, not quite yet, but if everything stays the course, airports like Sydney (and, to a lesser extent, Melbourne) will once again become A380 hubs in 2022.

Stalwart China Southern Airlines has maintained weekly A380 flights in and out of Melbourne throughout 2020 and dropped in seasonal A380 flights into Sydney. Recently, Emirates and Singapore Airlines have resumed sending their A380s back to Sydney.

Qantas is restarting its A380 services between Sydney and Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. These first services are temporary, plugging a hole caused by a 787-9 Dreamliner crew shortage. Full-time flights A380 are slated to resume in March. But there’s a fair chance, once up in the air, the Qantas A380s will stay in service.

While it’s a good start, there are still a handful of airlines who formerly flew A380s in Australia who haven’t announced when, or if, their Australia-bound A380 flights will recommence. Those airlines include Korean Air, Asiana, Etihad, and Qatar Airways. Malaysian Airlines also operated some seasonal A380 flights into its biggest Australian ports.

Still, a year ago, many pundits were writing the A380 off, saying most airlines were unlikely ever to resume flying the jumbo again. But a year is a long time in the airline industry. It’s good to see many airlines altering course and breathing second life into their A380 fleets.

Qantas is resuming limited A380 flights in mid-January. Photo: Qantas

Will Qantas finally sign off on Project Sunrise?

While the A380s have the capability to skip from Sydney to Dallas in a single flight, Qantas wants to fly further. The airline wants to get from Sydney to London or New York in one hop. For years, Qantas has floated the idea of ultra-long-range flights under the Project Sunrise banner.

The airline was just weeks away from signing for modified A350-1000 aircraft in early 2020 when the travel downturn temporarily scorched Project Sunrise aspirations. But 2022 could be the do-or-die year for the initiative.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has flagged deciding on Project Sunrise in late 2021 / early 2022. The clock is ticking. There’s only so long any airline can keep kicking the can down the road before the idea gets stale and the industry moves on.

If Joyce greenlights Project Sunrise and commits to the new aircraft, those ultra-long-range flights could commence as early as 2024. In the interim, an announcement this year would give some medium to long-term uplift to Qantas’ international operations. A Project Sunrise aircraft order would also see Qantas get onboard the A350 bandwagon. To date, no Australian airline operates the highly popular aircraft type.

The Qantas A380s are probably good for another ten years of flying. But after that, many long-haul Qantas passengers would likely welcome an alternative to flying on the workhorse Qantas Dreamliners. The flash new Project Sunrise Airbus A350-1000s would be just the ticket.

2022 is shaping up as a do-or-die year for the Project Sunrise decision. Photo: Qantas

Buckle up! A domestic capacity war could be looming

On the domestic front, 2022 will shape up as an interesting year because of the extra capacity coming onto the market. Virgin Australia, Regional Express, and Bonza are all bringing new aircraft into service. Could a good old-fashioned capacity war be on the horizon?

Bonza’s founder has told Simple Flying that Bonza should be flying by mid-2022 and operating with eight MAX 8s with 12 months of first flying. Regional Express (Rex) Rex anticipates taking eight Boeing 737-800s in 2022. Two are due before April and the remainder over the remainder of the year.

Virgin Australia is set to bring roughly another dozen Boeing 737-800s into its fleet over the course of 2022. That will take its total Boeing 737-800 fleet at Virgin Australia to 84 planes.  And 2022 is just a warm-up act for Virgin Australia. The first of their MAX 10s will start landing in 2023.

Jetstar is expecting the first of its new 18 Airbus A321LR neo aircraft to start landing later this year. Those aircraft will mostly fly on medium-haul international routes. However, the Qantas Group has a big order at Airbus for planes from the A320 aircraft family. That gives the airline a lot of deployment flexibility.

According to Airbus data released earlier this year, 45 A320neos and 64 A321neos (a combination of A321LR and XLR aircraft) are coming to the airline group from mid to late 2022.

Virgin Australia is one of several airlines adding significant capacity to its domestic fleet this year. Photo: Getty Images

An interesting year predicted

Over the year, what will all these extra planes do? Mostly they’ll put extra seats onto the market. That’s good news for passengers as it will put downward pressure on fares. Is it sustainable in the longer term? Not everyone thinks so. There may be casualties, but it won’t be the passengers suffering.

The Qantas Group, with a large share of the market nicely sewn up, will do its own thing and cruise through any turbulence. The competitive battleground will be in the next tier down – between Virgin Australia, Regional Express, and Bonza.

It’s early days yet, but the forward signs are 2022 is shaping up as an eventful year in Australian aviation.