LONDON – At the Qantas (QF) Annual General Meeting (AGM) this week, the airline discussed plans for its international restart as well as information regarding Project Sunrise.

The airline is looking to begin services to South Korea and Taiwan next year depending on whether travel bubbles between Australia and the two countries are established during the pandemic.

As for flights to the U.S and London Heathrow (LHR), the airline does not expect services to resume until a vaccine for the virus has been established and distributed.

Photo: Aidan Pullino

The Bubble-Based Focus

The AGM saw QF’s chairman Richard Goyder discuss the airline’s focus on the travel bubbles, which will exempt passengers from the quarantine and self-isolation rules upon arrival into Australia and the reciprocal state.

“Both Qantas and Jetstar are keeping a close eye on new markets that might open up as a result of these bubbles, including places that weren’t part of our pre-COVID network. By early next year, we may find that Korea, Taiwan and various islands in the Pacific are top Qantas destinations while we wait for our core international markets like the US and UK to re-open.”

“[The airline is] adding new destinations that suddenly make sense – and it’s the kind of flexibility we need to make the most of any cash positive opportunities in the year ahead.”

Photo: James Field

Taiwan and Seoul: Tough Markets to Crack?

At the moment, the direct Taiwan-Australia markets are served by China Airlines (CI) and EVA Air (BR) with Cathay Pacific (CX) operating indirect flights via Hong Kong (HKG).

For the South Korean market with the likes of Korean Air (KE) and Asiana Airlines (OZ) serving Australia, it remains clear that Qantas sees growth opportunities in both of those markets regardless of the dominance of such national carriers.

QF has operated to the two countries in the past, being as far as 1999, highlighting significant knowledge over the destinations. On top of this, code-sharing arrangements between QF, OZ and CI also show room for growth where completely possible as well.

Photo: James Field

Project Sunrise: Ultra-Long-Haul

Project Sunrise began with QF ordering around 12 Airbus A350-1000s in the Ultra Long Range variation, with the airline planning to operate services to:

  • London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
  • Cape Town (CPT)
  • New York (JFK)
  • Rio de Janeiro (GIG)

Based on initial plans, the airline aims for a 2022 launch although COVID-19 will no doubt delay these plans further. QF’s CEO Alan Joyce went into more detail regarding Sunrise. “We are still very keen, once we have repaired our balance sheet, on Project Sunrise which will allow us to fly from the eastern states directly to destinations around the globe. We think in a post-Covid world the business opportunities for those routes will be quite immense.”

Services to the UK and U.S were more or less in effect before the pandemic, using the airline’s 787-9 Dreamliners operating direct services to Perth (PER) among others. Joyce reaffirmed the airline’s requirements for such services to resume.

“For some of our big destination like the United States and the UK, it’s going to need a vaccine given the high prevalence of the virus in both of those locations. But we are getting more and more confident about the opportunities and the potential for a vaccine in helping getting those operations up by potentially by the end of 2021.”

Photo: Luca Flores

The Next Steps

With such strict international quarantine rules still in the making in Australia, Qantas is evidently trying to proceed with significant caution. Launching new services too fast could backfire and may result in more losses than the overall aim of profit, which is the vital thing to take from QF’s actions.

As for Project Sunrise, it is good news that the likes of Joyce are still backing the project, even when the airline is currently being subjected to negative financials in the wake of this virus.

It will be interesting to see what happens outside of the industry now, from the vaccine being distributed to travel restrictions being reduced. All of this will happen in good time, but one thing remains certain. Project Sunrise will happen, it is just a case of when.

Featured Image: Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons