Qantas boss Alan Joyce admits international flights may not return by October as planned, blaming Australia’s chaotic vaccine rollout

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  • Qantas Australia CEO Alan Joyce conceded the airline’s promise that international travel for Australians could resume by October 31 was highly unlikely in a speech on Wednesday.
  • Qantas had promised it would resume international flights at the end of October based on the expectation most Australians would be fully vaccinated.
  • Health Minister Greg Hunt had originally promised every Australian would be fully vaccinated by October 2021.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Qantas Australia CEO has conceded the airline’s promise that international travel for Australians could resume by October 31 is highly unlikely, calling out Australia’s disorganised vaccine rollout as a key factor in the delays.

The airline had pushed back its return to international flights from July to the end of October in February, based on the assumption most Australians would be vaccinated by then.

In a speech on Wednesday at the CAPA Centre for Aviation Joyce said the government had been unable to provide a clear picture of when borders would reopen.

“The government have said to us, they can’t give us that date with certainty today,” Joyce said.

“There’s a lot of things it depends on – how effective the vaccine is against stopping transmission, what the rollout looks like, what proportion of the population will have vaccinated, what the success of the other countries is going to look like,” he said.

“If it happens earlier, we can adapt or if it happens later, and it could happen later we just adapt and use it.”

Australia’s vaccine rollout has met a shaky start, with only half a million doses administered as of the end of March, a staggering 3.5 million doses short of its original March target of 4 million.

Health Minister Greg Hunt had originally promised in December last year that every Australian would be fully vaccinated by October 2021, however significant supply chain issues, a failed vaccine booking system launch, and blocked exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses from Europe have led to significant delays in the rollout.

More than half a million Australians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 – but the rollout is still 3.5 million doses behind the original March target

To achieve the original October 31 deadline and vaccinate the remaining 25.5 million Australians, the government would need to average around 117,000 vaccinations per day.

Joyce said he was thankful for Australia’s status as essentially COVID-19-free and thanked the state and federal leaders “who helped us get there”.

Airlines return to capacity thanks to domestic travel demand and New Zealand travel bubble

One bright spot has been the trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand that’s expected to start in July — but is now expected to kick off on April 19.

“That’s ahead of our forecast despite the delay of vaccinations,” Joyce said, adding one approach could be to open up international flights progressively country-by-country.

“So this could open up bubble by bubble, market by market depending on what the [vaccination] framework looks like,” he said.

On Thursday morning, the CEO of Virgin Jayne Hrdlicka reiterated on the “Today” that the airline hadn’t changed its position, having previously stated it wouldn’t be flying to New Zealand until September, but was hopeful flights would resume by October.

Joyce also said Qantas was continuing to plan for international travel to resume at the end of October, in terms of “training people and activating aircraft”.

“For some time Qantas was treading water and now we’re starting to swim towards shore,” he said.

Joyce said he was confident Qantas would be well on the road to recovery by the time international travel opens up, after losing $11 billion in revenue last year and increasing debt by $2.5 billion.

Despite this domestic business was generating a positive cash flow, he said.

The Group today reported that all Qantas and Jetstar domestic crew were now back at work.

It said domestic capacity had increased beyond previous estimates to reach 90% of pre-COVID levels, and Jetstar reported it would exceed 100% capacity thanks to strong demand thanks to domestic leisure travel.

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