Qantas has accelerated plans to return its mothballed flagship Airbus A380 fleet to Australia as a rush of international bookings buoys its expectations of demand for overseas flights next year.
Chief executive Alan Joyce told the airline’s annual general meeting on Friday that international bookings had been patchy since the border opened on Monday, with strong demand from Australians returning home before Christmas. “Going in the other direction you’ll find that aircraft are relatively empty,” he said.
But there was enough interest for Qantas to further accelerate the return of its flagship A380 superjumbos, after putting them in deep storage at Los Angeles’ LAX airport early in the pandemic with the intention to leave them there until late 2023.
Along with two of the 484-seat, double-decker jets entering service on Sydney-Los Angeles flights in April, three more will now return and fly to London – which was previously slated to happen by November – while a sixth A380 will now return to service by the end of 2022.
“That shows the confidence we have in getting our flagship aircraft back in the air,” Mr Joyce said.
There were doubts about whether Qantas would ever fly its A380s superjumbos again after it mothballed its fleet of 12 early in the pandemic. International carriers including Lufthansa and Air France decided to permanently retire the jets during the COVID-19 crisis. The jets had already lost favour with airlines, which opted for smaller and more fuel-efficient jets, and in 2019 Airbus announced it would stop building them.
Qantas will, however, retire two of the 12, having decided they are surplus to future requirements. The first Qantas A380 to return to Australia will arrive in Sydney next week, so crew can commence refresher training, Mr Joyce said, confirming reports in this masthead.
With Western Australia announcing its border re-opening plans on Friday, there is now a road map for the full return of domestic travel. But Mr Joyce warned travellers would be put off by a “patchwork of entry conditions”, including having to take PCR COVID tests before entering Queensland, WA and Tasmania at a cost of around $150 each.
“That is frustrating for vaccinated travellers, who would reasonably expect they can move freely and easily,” he said. “Surely that’s something we’ve all earned.”