Qantas delays return of international travel as pandemic takes a billion-dollar toll

Qantas has pushed back the relaunch of international flights from July to October.

Qantas has pushed back the relaunch of international flights from July to October.

The coronavirus pandemic dealt Qantas a more than $1 billion blow in the second half of 2020, but Australian’s national flag carrier has weathered the storm better than many of its domestic and international rivals.

The airline bled $1.08 billion in the last six months of 2020, it was revealed on Thursday, with the closure of international borders due to COVID-19 largely to blame.

It came as airline chief Alan Joyce admitted the Flying Kangaroo wouldn’t be landing overseas as soon as hoped – Mr Joyce is now eyeing October for international flights, back from the previously promised July.

Despite such setbacks and plummeting revenue, Qantas has the upper hand over local and international competitors, Monash University aviation expert and co-author of Up in the Air Greg Bamber told The New Daily.

“We can be confident about the airline’s future. Qantas is in a stronger position than most other airlines around the world,” Professor Bamber said.

“Unlike some of its international competitors, such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines, Qantas has a large and profitable domestic business.”

Alan Joyce labelled Qantas’ pandemic losses ‘stark but not surprising’.

Qantas and little sister-airline Jetstar will relaunch international flights on October 31, Mr Joyce said on Thursday, after previously claiming flights to Asia would relaunch in July.

Mr Joyce was optimistic about the rollout of coronavirus vaccinations, which is due to be completed by the end of October in Australia.

“We are making great progress with the vaccine,” he told the ABC.

“I think the UK with the NHS has done an amazing job of rolling out the vaccine. There are over 50 million of the population with first dose and now the US is up to 40 million people being vaccinated, so they are way ahead of us … but the big thing for us is when do we get to herd immunity in Australia?

“When are we comfortable opening up the border and moving to a situation where the vulnerable population is protected and the virus may circulate, but the damage in terms of health is actually being minimised or eliminated because of the vaccination program?”

Aviation has been one of the world’s worst-hit industries by the pandemic, with airlines forecast to make a combined global net yearly loss of more than $100 billion.

Qantas’ 70 per cent domestic market share has helped it weather the COVID storm.

Qantas’ revenue fell by 75 per cent year on year to $6.9 billion in the second half of 2020, but the airline was bolstered by strong demand for cargo services.

“These figures are stark, but not surprising,” Mr Joyce said.

“Just consider the trading conditions we had to deal with in the half … Border closures meant we lost virtually 100 per cent of our international flying and 70 per cent of our domestic flying.”

However, the return of domestic travel as coronavirus restrictions eased across the nation has been a boon to Qantas in recent months, with the airline commanding about 70 per cent of the national market, overshadowing competitors Virgin Australia and Rex.

The flying kangaroo’s famous Frequent Flyer program also aided its ailing bottom line, with shoppers continuing to boos their points in anticipation of a fully fledged return to international travel.

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