Qantas CEO Says Vaccine May Be Necessary To Resume US Flights

Qantas is talking down expectations of its transpacific routes between Australian and the United States re-opening anytime soon. The airline’s CEO said last week he couldn’t see flights resuming to the United States until a COVID-19 vaccine became available. Alan Joyce hopes this will be by the end of 2021. But, like so many things impacting aviation, the timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine remains up in the air.

Qantas does not expect to fly to the United States until a COVID-19 becomes available. Photo: Qantas

A rich market for Qantas stays off the flight schedule

The Australian airline has built a lucrative business over the years flying to the United States. Usually, the flights zooming across to Los Angeles and other United States cities are highly profitable for Qantas.

Before COVID-19, Qantas sent its Boeing 787-9s and Airbus A380s to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas Fort Worth, and New York. Flights to Chicago, now suspended, were slated to begin this year.

Prior to travel demand slumping, Australian Government statistics revealed that 233,595 passengers boarded nonstop flights on routes between Australian and the United States in January.  Qantas, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines all offer nonstop flights on the sector. Qantas flew 137,792 of those passengers, or 59% of the total number. That’s a tasty piece of business for any airline.

But Qantas grounded its international flying back in March. Aside from some repatriation flights and one-way flights across to California to retire or park planes, Qantas hasn’t flown across the Pacific since. Stalwart United Airlines has kept the route alive. Delta Air Lines has recently rejoined the transpacific fray.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Transpacific flying is usually a lucrative business for Qantas. Photo: Qantas News Room

No US-bound flights until COVID vaccine, says Alan Joyce

According to the Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, Qantas will not be resuming transpacific flying anytime soon. Mr Joyce does not expect Qantas to begin flying international sectors again until the middle of next year.

But he was even more cautious about flights resuming to the United States. Referring to the high levels of COVID-19 in the United States, Mr Joyce said last week,

“The United States, with its level of prevalence there, is probably going to take some time. It’s probably going to need a vaccine before we see that happening. But the news of the vaccine seems to get better every day.

“That could mean the United States is seen as a market by the end of 2021.”

Alan Joyce cited Qantas putting its fleet of Airbus A380s and 787-9 Dreamliners into long term storage as evidence of his timeline regarding international flights resuming.

“We believe that the earliest we are going to see international borders opening up is the middle of next year.”

Qantas boss Alan Joyce does not expect to fly to the United States until the end of 2021. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas turns to local flying for the next 12 months

Meanwhile, all is not lost for Qantas. The airline will focus on its home turf until international borders re-open. While flying around Australia remains problematic, Mr Joyce is enthused about the pent up demand and the potential rivers of revenue that offers.

He pointed to the intrastate Brisbane – Cairns route, usually an afterthought in Qantas’ broader world view. But that route is the number one route in the Qantas network now, with 59 return services a week. Mr Joyce proudly highlights the route like it was an underwhelming child that’s unexpectedly come good.

Mr Joyce said that route and other intrastate routes like it were busier now than they were before COVID-19.

“Domestically, there are a lot of opportunities for Qantas,” Mr Joyce said last week.

“It’s given us a real confidence.”

The airline boss has effectively closed the door on international flying for the next 12 months while he focuses on domestic flying. Local flying, rather than flights across to the United States, is where Alan Joyce sees Qantas’ immediate future.

“It (domestic flying) has always been the number one profit driver for Qantas, and once that gets re-established again, it will be a big positive for Qantas.

“We can live with international on the ground for some time if that’s the consequence.”