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Resilient Qantas sets encouraging target on its 100th birthday

November 17, 2020 Headline News No Comments

It’s a tough old time for the airline industry, but Qantas celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday in better shape than many, with chief executive Alan Joyce expecting to restore the airline’s seat capacity to at least half its pre-coronavirus levels by Christmas.

With many world carriers in dire straits, the refreshingly optimistic forecast surprised some.

Britain’s Financial Times quoted Joyce as saying Australia’s swift and effective handling of the coronavirus, plus the tough remedial action taken by Qantas when passenger numbers slid away, would help the airline emerge from the pandemic ahead of its rivals.

Coronavirus is raging in Europe and the US, and passenger numbers for European, US and Middle Eastern carriers are plummeting. Earlier this year, Europe’s second-biggest airline, Lufthansa, revealed the paralysis of global travel triggered by the pandemic was costing it the equivalent of AUD 1.6 million an hour – forcing it to make a plea for state aid in the face of what its chief executive called “the biggest challenge in our 65-year history”.

Just last week, Emirates posted its first half-year loss in over 30 years.

In comparison, while Europe reels under a new wave of Covid-19, the re-opening of Australia, which contributes two thirds of Qantas’ profit, should let Qantas claim 70% of the domestic market, up 10% on pre-Covid-19 levels, Joyce said. Virgin Australia’s plight can only help Qantas.

Joyce told the Financial Times Qantas “could be way over our 50% [seat capacity] target by the time we get to Christmas”.

The airline’s uniform in the late 1960s. Source: Qantas

Qantas expects most international routes to remain closed until mid-2021.

Unions were not in party mood on Qantas’s 100th birthday yesterday. Aviation workers held protests to mark the anniversary as the airline prepares to outsource all of its 2500 ground workers.

Transport Workers Union (TWU) National Secretary Michael Kaine said aviation workers felt let down by the Government:

“Today should be a day of celebration across the aviation industry as Qantas hits 100 years in operation. Instead, aviation workers are worrying about how they’ll manage through Christmas and whether they’ll have jobs next year. Every day there is more bad news in our industry and workers do not believe the Federal Government is doing enough.

Back in the old days, when Qantas was founded 100 years ago

“Qantas workers are fighting to keep doing their jobs as the company tries to axe and outsource them, replacing them with workers on lower pay. They are fighting in court for the company to stop abusing the Jobkeeper Payment and to allow sick workers to use the leave they have built up. Dnata workers are still without Jobkeeper and are enduring 1000 redundancies. Virgin’s future remains in the balance

“Our message today is for the Federal Government to end the ‘no strings attached corporate welfare’ and to hold the likes of Qantas to account over its moves to trash jobs. The Government must step in and also do more to support Virgin and Dnata workers as they struggle to keep their jobs,” Kaine said.

The TWU says the Federal Government has given over AUD 1 billion to the aviation industry, including over AUD 800 million to Qantas, since the pandemic hit, with no conditions attached on retaining jobs or capping senior salaries.

DESPITE ALL THAT, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS, an acronym which is still spelled in capitals on the side of planes) went ahead last night and celebrated 100 years since its foundation in the Australian outback.

Qantas Boeing 747 takes off from Sydney Airport. Source: Qantas

On 16 November 1920, two veterans of the Australian Flying Corps, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, together with local grazier Fergus McMaster, founded what would later become Australia’s national carrier.

This happened just 17 years after the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers, two years after the end of World War One and at the tail end of the last major global pandemic, the Spanish Flu.

Initially carrying mail between outback towns, Qantas was flying passengers to Singapore by the 1930s. By the end of the 1940s its strategic importance saw it nationalised and in the 1960s it was an early adopter of the jet aircraft that mainstreamed global travel. Qantas invented business class in the 1970s, switched to an all-747 fleet in the 1980s, was privatised in the 1990s, founded Jetstar in 2004, went through major restructuring in 2014 and, by 2020, had recently completed several important ‘firsts’ in non-stop travel to Europe and the US.

Qantas is the world’s oldest continuously operating airline and the only one that (normally) flies to every inhabited continent on earth.

This year has been the big exception.

“For most of this year, it’s the distance between Melbourne and Sydney (or any of our capitals) that has been the challenge,” Joyce pointed out yesterday.

“Hard state borders for the first time in, coincidently enough, about 100 years.

‘Now, as Australia opens up, we’re ready to fly again.”

The impact of Covid-19 this year has led to a scaling back of planned centenary celebrations – but Qantas still marked the occasion with a low-level flyover of Sydney Harbour yesterday evening.

Written by Peter Needham

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