Qantas boss Alan Joyce has conceded the airline may not be able to restart international flights again by October as he had hoped but warned Australia risks becoming a “hermit state” if its borders remain shut for too long.
“We know that date [when international travel will restart] may change,” Mr Joyce said at Adelaide Airport on Friday. “We’re completely flexible on this.”
The comments come after Tourism Minister Dan Tehan and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham predicted this week that the government would not open the international border until well into 2022, despite Qantas’ efforts to restart most of its international operations by the end of October.
The airline chose this date because it coincided with the federal government’s plan to immunise the entire population with at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This timetable, however, has now been scrapped by the government.
Furthermore, taxpayer-funded assistance aimed at keeping 8600 workers whose jobs are dependent on international flying was granted to both Qantas and Virgin Australia last month until the end of October.
Mr Joyce stated that Australia must be aggressive in pushing for the reopening of international borders, or risk becoming a “hermit state” in international terms, with a middle ground needed to be found.
Mr Joyce warned that if Australia was too slow in reopening international borders safely it could permanently damage the tourism market.
“Tourists will find other markets.”
Even though uncertainty still clouds the international restart, the Qantas chief said the domestic market was extremely strong.
In the next financial year, Qantas will reach 107 per cent of pre-pandemic schedule and Jetstar would hit 120 per cent.
“The demand is that strong,” he said.
But, overall, because of international travel bans, the company was still running at a loss.
“We’re not making profits at the moment, that’s fairly clear,” Mr Joyce said.
By Joe Cusmano