Qantas CEO downplays Omicron threat to travel

Soaring prospects: In this file photo, a Qantas Airbus A380 is seen arriving in California. The airline is ready to capitalise on the huge pent-up demand in the Australian domestic market. — AP

SYDNEY: Qantas Airways Ltd chief executive officer Alan Joyce is optimistic about a recovery in air travel even as coronavirus variant Omicron sweeps across major markets and triggers fresh restrictions on movement.

“We have confidence that the market recovery is fundamentally on track,” he said on a call yesterday. “Omicron seems to be a lot more transmissible, but it’s not as severe as Delta and the vaccines are still effective.”

Joyce said “every indicator is positive” and there’s “huge pent-up demand” in the Australian domestic market. To meet that, Qantas has brought forward the return of some stood-down employees by six months, he said.

While Qantas’s domestic capacity is seen exceeding pre-Covid levels in the first three months next year, the outlook is dimmer on overseas routes.

The airline, which announced a blockbuster order of Airbus SE aircraft yesterday, expects international capacity to be less than a third of normal levels in early 2022.

The airline said it had chosen Airbus as the preferred supplier to replace its domestic fleet, switching from Boeing in a major win for the European plane maker. The agreement is subject to board approval, expected by June 2022 after negotiations with pilots and finalising the business case.

Deliveries would start in mid-2023 and continue over the next 10 years to replace an ageing fleet of 75 Boeing 737s and 20 717s, Qantas said.

Daily infections in the United Kingdom are at a record and Singapore has warned of an “Omicron wave.” Canada has advised residents to avoid non-essential travel. —Bloomberg

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