MIAMI – As countries around the world grapple with the Delta variant of COVID-19, Qantas (QF) has outlined plans to restart international operations and return 10 Airbus A380s to service.

Due to a dramatic downturn in travel demand, large aircraft, such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 quickly became casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Among those grounded were QF’s 12 A380s, which have largely sat in deserts without a clear future. Australia’s strict travel restrictions also prevented QF from operating international service for much of the pandemic.

Out of the 12 A380s, two will be retired, five will be returned to service early in 2022 and the rest will eventually return to service. 

The five aircraft returning to service early will fly between Sydney (SYD) and Los Angeles (LAX) from July 2022, and between Sydney (SYD) and London (LHR) with Singapore as a transit stop from November 2022. 

Qantas has tentatively scheduled December of this year as a starting point for the reintegration of international services, pending vaccine rollouts in Australia. 

International flights for QF and subsidiary Jetstar (JQ) are expected to open from April 2022, with capacity remaining flexible. 

Photo: Noah Pitkin/Airways

COVID ‘Safe’ Markets

Qantas has identified various markets with high vaccination rates, such as North America, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Japan as focus points in their bid to reinstate international service. 

As early as this December, QF will restart flights to these destinations using Boeing 787s, Airbus A330s. 

Fitted with technical changes providing an extended range, the airline’s Airbus A330s will operate flights between Brisbane and the United States’ West Coast cities Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).

In addition, flights between Australia and other countries in Oceania, such as Fiji and New Zealand, will be operated using Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. The airline expects a two-way air travel bubble to restart between Australia and New Zealand.

Photo: Nick Sheeder/Airways

Fleet Updates for Targeted Recovery

As Qantas prepares for the arrival of new aircraft to enter its fleet, the airline will be able to target recovery plans to remain flexible in a highly volatile environment. 

Among the new aircraft expected to be delivered are three Boeing 787-9 aircraft currently in storage with Boeing and three Airbus A321LR aircraft for Jetstar during the fiscal year 2023. 

The airline remains committed to Project Sunrise, aiming to connect Australia with the United Kingdom. As QF awaits delivery of Airbus A350-1000 aircraft destined to fulfill the new route, the airline is examining the possibility of using Darwin, Australia as a possible stopover point.

Qantas expects demand for travel between London and Australia to be high even during COVID-19, and Darwin can be used as an alternative or extension of the current Perth hub.

In 2024, the remaining Airbus A380s fitted with upgraded interiors will be returned to service. 

Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways

The X Factors

Although well laid out, QF’s plans for restarting international operations remain vulnerable to a number of ‘X Factors’, including any possible new outbreaks and government restrictions.

COVID-19 trends remain difficult to trace, and the volatility of worldwide travel markets has been apparent. Qantas will also be dependent on the Australian government and its response to any new outbreaks. 

Speaking on the role of the government in the airline’s plans, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said, “It’s obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders re-open, but with Australia on track to meet the 80 percent trigger agreed by National Cabinet by the end of the year, we need to plan ahead for what is a complex restart process.”

The pace of vaccine rollouts in targeted markets for Qantas will be crucial as new variants pop up and new travel restrictions are inevitably installed.

Featured Image: Luca Flores/Airways