Yet another sign of how uncontrolled the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. is came from Australian carrier Qantas. CEO Alan Joyce said the company likely won’t resume its U.S. routes until the end of 2021, and only if an effective vaccine or therapeutic is found to control the spread of the disease.
Qantas shut down its international operation early on, as Australia imposed strict travel restrictions to contain the virus. The carrier operated dozens of repatriation flights to bring Australians back from China, Japan, and the U.S. But Joyce believes the international network won’t restart until about July of next year, with U.S. routes to follow later, when the virus is under control. International routes will resume, of course, as travel restrictions around the world are eased, he noted. Trans-Tasman routes to New Zealand could re-start earlier, he said.
Qantas has signaled its international network’s future could be smaller. It retired its fleet of aging Boeing 747-400s and has put its Airbus A380s in long-term storage. The carrier is deferring deliveries of new Boeing 787-9s.
Qantas’ domestic network is operating at about 20% of pre-pandemic levels, and was a source of strength. But recent Covid-19 outbreaks in Melbourne and internal travel restrictions have put a damper on the recovery.
As with many carriers around the world, cargo has been a bright spot for Qantas during the pandemic. Freight revenues reached a “record,” Joyce said, up 8% year-over-year.
Overall, though, the airline didn’t fare as well. On track to report a record year in 2020, instead the carrier reported a 91% plunge in profits, eking out an $88 million profit for the year before the pandemic took hold.