Why Qantas’ CEO Is Against Any Zero COVID-19 Case Goal

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has once again raised his concerns about a fortress Australian mentality that may be keeping COVID-19 at bay but risks crippling not just the fortunes of his airline but the country in general.

The Qantas CEO has hit out at local politicians chasing zero COVID-19 cases before relaxing border restrictions. Photo: Getty Images

A tough flying environment for Qantas

Speaking at the Australian Financial Review 2021 Business Summit in Sydney last week, Mr Joyce said some influential political figures in Australia need to drop their goals of zero COVID-19 cases.

Qantas shut down its international flying last March. Since then, it has only operated repatriation flights and more recently, a threadbare schedule between Auckland and Sydney. After shuttering its international services, Qantas brought forward the retirement of its 747-400 fleet and put its entire A380 fleet into long-term storage.

The Australian Government also implemented a human biosecurity emergency that prevented the vast majority of its citizens from leaving the country. The ban presently remains in force until June.

In the other direction, the ban prevents most people from traveling to Australia. That includes tens of thousands of Australia’s own citizens still trying to get home. On a more localized level, individual Australian states put their own border closures and travel restrictions in place.

That threw domestic travel arrangements within Australia into chaos. Several State-level politicians have consistently advocated for zero COVID-19 cases before border and travel restrictions come down.

All of Australia’s internal borders are now open. But one or more could potentially close again tomorrow. It’s a situation Alan Joyce argues is not sustainable.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has a three-point plan to making flying easier. Photo: Getty Images

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Alan Joyce’s three-point plan

Australia is handling COVID-19 pretty well. There are strict limits on how many people can enter Australia, and all arrivals go into hotel-style quarantine. That process is catching nearly all cases that crop up. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has just had 55 days without any community transmission. This week, two new cases have emerged in Sydney.

As Qantas starts to ramp up its domestic capacity, the threat of another state closing its borders to New South Wales based on a handful of cases is a live risk for the airline. Rather than that happening, Alan Joyce proposed a three-point plan at last week’s business summit.

He wants to see a national QR code tracking system similar to New South Wales’ highly successful program. Mr Joyce also wants individual States to give at least 48 hours’ notice before shutting their borders. That at least would give Qantas time to lay on extra flights to get people in and out of the State. Finally, the Qantas CEO ambitiously wants individual States to agree to not close borders unless it’s a bona fide bio-security emergency.

Mr Joyce argues senior politicians in States like Queensland and Western Australia chasing zero COVID-19 cases before they opened their borders was pie in the sky stuff. People, and business, will simply go elsewhere, he said.

Should Qantas be making more of an effort with its international operations? Photo: Getty Images

Should Qantas be running international services?

While much of Mr Joyce’s commentary targeted internal border closures, it’s equally valid for Australia’s current international border arrangements.

But some argue Qantas should be putting its money where its mouth is. The airline said it was economically unsustainable to keep maintaining international services last year. Suspending international flights has saved Qantas a tonne of money. But most other international airlines have stepped up and maintained international services, albeit scaled back services.

Those airlines invariably cite a need to maintain networks and cater for essential travel. A largely unwritten social license between an airline and its passengers also comes into play.

While Australia hasn’t managed its international borders and travel restrictions perfectly, it doesn’t necessarily sit well with many that Qantas wants nicer flying conditions before it returns to international flying.

Qantas presently plans to resume most international services from October 31.

Should Qantas be making more of an effort with its international operations? Post a comment and let us know