Qantas is hoping to restart international flights more than eight months earlier than previously predicted but only if the flights are heavily subsidised by the Australian federal government. Any resumption of international services would only be to help rescue an estimated 25,000 Australians who have registered their desire to return home but have effectively found themselves stranded overseas.
In an interview with ABC News, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline was in talks with the Morrison administration to restart a limited number of flights to get Australians home in time for Christmas. Joyce said the government would be expected to cover the cost of fuel and the salaries of pilots and cabin crew if the flights were to go ahead.
Qantas suspended its international route network in April as a result of strict border restrictions and a massive slump in travel demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Regularly scheduled flights were initially replaced by over 100 repatriation flights operated on behalf of the federal government to destinations like Hong Kong, London, Los Angles, Lima, Buenos Aires and Mumbai.
When the money for these services dried up, Qantas completely grounded its long-haul services and has since claimed international flights weren’t likely to return until July 2021 at the earliest.
Competitors like Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways have helped fill the void but even these state-subsidized airlines are under pressure because the number of new arrivals allowed to enter Australia is heavily controlled. At present, just 4,000 international arrivals are allowed per week, although this is set to increase to 6,000 by the end of September.
“We have have been talking to the government about whether can put special Qantas flights on to destinations and offer reasonable airfares,” Joyce confirmed in an interview with ABC and reported by Executive Traveller.
“The government at the moment sponsors a regional network and a domestic network – if the economics are not covered by the cost of the airfares, the government subsidises to keep those destinations open,” he continued.
“We’re saying let’s do the same thing internationally, and then you don’t get people being gouged by high airfares.”
Regularly scheduled flights, however, will have to wait until border restrictions are significantly eased – something that isn’t likely to happen until a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved.
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