Qantas has predicted a return to 90 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 domestic capacity later this year after Christmas lockdowns cost it $400 million and the recent Brisbane lockdown cost $29 million.
Its budget airline, Jetstar, has already surpassed its pre-COVID levels on what the company said was extremely strong demand for leisure travel.
All its staff have returned to work and it continued to target October for a return of international flying, despite the problems with the vaccine rollout in Australia.
Qantas said had received “tens of thousands” of bookings made for flights to New Zealand after the travel bubble was announced and the half-price domestic fare program from the Federal Government led to 250,000 fares being sold in the first two weeks of the scheme.
Virgin Australia has also said it had fast-tracked plans to acquire new aircraft, create more frontline jobs and grow its network to further support domestic tourism.
Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said the recovery efforts included the reintroduction of 10 additional Boeing 737-800 aircraft and the planned return of more than 80 per cent of the airline’s pre-pandemic domestic capacity by mid-June.
“The creation of more roles at the company will see more than 220 cabin crew return to the skies from the airline’s discontinued long-haul international, ATR regional and Tigerair Australia operations. The new recruits will join one of 15 cabin crew training schools over the next two months,” Hrdlicka said.
“In addition, a major recruitment drive to fill more than 150 new cabin crew roles, including an expression of interest for future positions has also begun today, with applications from other Virgin Australia employee groups being assessed as a matter of priority.
“We’re hopeful that domestic border closures will soon be a thing of the past and are continuing to see positive signs of consumer recovery. As an example of this, we’ve had multiple record-breaking sales days of half-priced fares, with more than 75 per cent of the tickets being booked for travel from May onwards.”
Between now and the June school holidays, Virgin said would add more than 220 return flights a week to its schedule, offering new and extended seasonal services and expanded frequencies on key business and leisure routes. Trans-Tasman services to Queenstown would recommence ahead of school holidays on September 18.
Asked about the Virgin announcement today, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “that’s wonderful, that’s great news”.
With some industries still “hurting” as a result of the end of JobKeeper payments, Palaszczuk said more jobs were always welcome.
“Our economy is getting back to those pre-COVID levels as well,” she said.
Qantas said the current environment was characterised by extremely strong leisure demand – helped by the Federal Government’s half-price fare offer and the return of the majority of corporate and small to medium business travel.
“As a result, the group is revising estimates of reaching 80 per cent of its pre-COVID domestic capacity for the fourth quarter of 2021 and is now expecting this to be beyond 90 per cent, provided there are no significant border closures.
“The group’s short-term strategy remains generating positive cashflow rather than returning to pre-COVID profit margins – meaning the positive impact of 2021 earnings from this increased activity will be relatively small.
“In turn, this means even more low fares that will continue to stimulate demand.”
Qantas said it expected domestic capacity would continue to grow in to 2022 and Jetstar was forecast to hit 120 per cent of pre-COVID levels and Qantas 107 per cent.
To meet the growing demand, Jetstar will bring in six aircraft from its Japan operations.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said the company was still facing massive losses for the year with revenue down $11 billion since the pandemic hit.
“The vaccination program is absolutely key to restarting international flights into and out of Australia. While there have been some speedbumps with the vaccine rollout we are still planning for international flights to resume in late October,” he said.
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