The airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce gave an update on the status of international travel as he announced massive job cuts at Qantas and Jetstar as part of a drastic three-year plan to survive the COVID-19 crisis.
The survival strategy will also see Qantas mothball its flagship A380 jumbo jets, which will be confined to a desert facility in the US, put its Boeing 747 fleet into early retirement and defer deliveries of new aircraft.
Mr Joyce said while domestic travel was starting to return, international travel wouldn’t be back until mid-2021 at least.
“(For) international, we have to be realistic about it and in staying with what’s happening in the rest of the globe, it is probably an extended period of time before we’ll open up those borders,” he said.
“We’re parking the A380 for at least three years because they don’t have any use, we think, during this period of time.”
But it could be a different story for the much-hyped “travel bubble” with New Zealand. A Qantas spokesperson told news.com.au flights to New Zealand are expected in the coming months.
In a press conference today, Mr Joyce said a trans-Tasman travel bubble could operate with aircraft mainly used for domestic flights, including the Boeing 737 and A330.
“It is a massive market and volume,” Mr Joyce added. “The New Zealanders are the second largest tourism group to come to Australia. And Australians are the largest tourism group to go to New Zealand.
“So this is really, really good for tourism of both countries and we are hoping with the pent-up demand we are seeing there for people to fly into destinations that that could generate some good volumes and, potentially, before July of next year, which we believe is potentially feasible.”
Mr Joyce said a recent Jetstar sale on domestic and New Zealand flights showed the massive interest from Australians in visiting our trans-Tasman neighbour.
However, the Qantas announcement follows comments last week from Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, who said it was “more likely” Australians will be banned from overseas travel until 2021.
NZ outbreak upsets travel bubble plan
Hopes for the trans-Tasman bubble hit another setback last week after cases of COVID-19 returned in New Zealand.
After going more than three weeks without a single case of COVID-19, New Zealand’s road to recovery was seen as having led the way in its response to the global health pandemic.
But virus has now returned to New Zealand, having been brought back into the country by two women who travelled to Auckland from the UK on compassionate grounds to see a dying relative.
According to the New Zealand Herald, the pair were allowed to leave their managed isolation at a hotel in Auckland to drive to Wellington, on the basis they were tested in the capital.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the condition to allow the pair entry and ability to travel the North Island of New Zealand have highlighted a “failure” of her country’s border system, with MPs calling for heads to roll over the bungle.
The two new cases of COVID-19 have highlighted unforgivable and unacceptable “ineptitude”, with some suggesting the process failure may extinguish any chance of a trans-Tasman bubble across the ditch in the near future.
New Zealand’s National Party leader Todd Muller says Health Minister David Clark should be sacked, highlighting the “unacceptable” border bungle puts New Zealand’s economy – and chance or forming international travel bubbles – on the backburner.
“The errors at the border was a major economic setback,” Mr Muller said.
“The opportunity to open up to international students has definitely been delayed.
“It undermines confidence in our border management, and that is completely unacceptable when you think about the thousands of jobs that are expected to be lost over the next weeks and months.”
The trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand has been spruiked for weeks as our first step back to international travel normality.
Discussions between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern have been bubbling away since early May, with launch dates tipped anywhere from July to September.
But with the majority of Australia’s state borders still closed, a suggested July 1 corridor across the ditch is looking less and less likely – especially now.
With Australia still recording outbreaks, with 21 new cases of coronavirus detected in Victoria alone overnight, will our Kiwi neighbours want us dropping in anyway?
Dr David Beirman, a senior tourism lecturer from Sydney’s University of Technology, said New Zealand’s claim of eliminating the virus was a “dangerous” standpoint, and one that may have backfired on the nation’s road to recovery.
“I always find it dangerous in the current environment, for any head of government to claim that it has eliminated a global pandemic,” Dr Beirman told news.com.au.
“New Zealand has certainly been very successful in containing COVID-19, but as Yes Prime Minister’s fictional civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby often stated when his PM was about
to announce an ‘achievement’ … is that it could lead to an embarrassing backdown.
“Jacinda Ardern’s ‘courageous’ claim is a case in point.”
While Ms Ardern has been relatively coy around a start date for any kind of trans-Tasman corridor, the latest virus cases could result in New Zealand backtracking on any discussions.
“I think the two cases will certainly prompt New Zealand to maintain its caution about the trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia,” Dr Beirman said.
“My thinking, and that of other travel industry leaders in both countries, is that New Zealand (and Australia) will be understandably cautious about how the reintroduction of tourism trans- Tasman will take place.
“Issues such as medical screening, social distancing and protective clothing will need to be taken into consideration.”
Despite domestic travel being included in the Morrison government’s three-stage road map to recovery, there was no information about when international travel will re-open.
Earlier this week, the federal government announced the ban on international travel will be increased until September pending further reviews.
But as part of our domestic tourism sector begins to reopen – with South Australia now allowing for incoming visitors from selected Australian states – New Zealand’s reliance on Aussie tourist spend could force their hand on the opening of a corridor.
In New Zealand, tourism is the country’s biggest export industry, generating $16.2 billion directly to the GDP.
Australians are the biggest contributor to that, with 1.5 million of us visiting the country in 2019 alone, contributing $2.5 billion into the New Zealand economy.
Roles reversed, New Zealanders are the second biggest tourism group behind China to come into Australia, with 1.43 million travelling across the ditch for a holiday last year.
“The big picture issues are that the economic benefits to both Australia and New Zealand of reopening bilateral tourism are compelling,” Dr Beirman said.
“These numbers and the billions of dollar in income they generate (and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they create and support) to both countries have fallen off a cliff in 2020.
“While health and safety will remain a top priority for both countries, the economic impact of resuming tourism can’t be ignored.”
Dr Beirman expects any kind of travel corridor across the ditch to come in stages, and only when our domestic borders open to each other.
“In July, there is a good chance that we can seriously make a start when we have a situation where the Australian travel bubble is nationally consistent,” he said.
“A trans-Tasman bubble may open in stages with business and official travel being the first cab off the rank, and then gradually open up to students, visiting friends and relatives and then general tourism.
“I would be surprised to see any resumption of trans-Tasman travel as open slather.”