A new era
In 2020, Qantas’ centenary year, the COVID-19 pandemic presented the most challenging period in living memory for Qantas and the airline industry as borders closed. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, on 20 March 2020, Australia shut its borders to the world for the first time, a closure that would last until 21 February 2022, nearly two years later. This had a major impact on Qantas operations.
Flights across the world were grounded, with some Qantas aircraft stored in the dry climate of the Mojave Desert, California, while others were parked on runways around Australia. In the early months, a minimum network of flights operated to key destinations and around Australia to maintain vital links.
Qantas has a proud history of supporting Australians in their time of need, and during COVID-19, we operated hundreds of flights on behalf of the Australian Government across five continents to bring Australians home, some from destinations not usually found on the Qantas network. Qantas also maintained critical air freight services.
The year 2020 also marked the end of an era with the retirement of the last Boeing 747 from the Qantas fleet.
With Australia’s domestic borders reopening, and regularly scheduled international flights starting at the end of 2021, more flights and destinations returned to the schedule.
For the future, Qantas and Airbus have committed to the establishment of a sustainable aviation fuels industry in Australia. In 2021, Qantas announced the acquisition of lower emission and fuel efficient A220 and A321XLR aircraft for Australian domestic routes in addition to the previously selected A350-1000 aircraft to fly non-stop long-range international services to places such as London, United Kingdom and New York, United States of America.
Flights from Wuhan, China operated at the start of the pandemic to repatriate Australians.
As global borders shut, the airline put its fleet, including its entire A380 fleet to sleep in deserts and airports around Australia.
A minimum network of domestic flights operated between all capital cities and 36 regional destinations. Internationally, we also operated a number of flights between Australia and Auckland, Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles to support customers returning home.
Throughout the pandemic, additional charter and repatriation flights conducted in conjunction with the Australian Government operated between Australia and 31 destinations across five continents, bringing 30,000 Australians home.
On 22 July, the last Qantas Boeing 747, VH-OEJ, left Australian shores for the final time, its retirement brought forward due to the impacts of COVID-19. On departure from Sydney, the pilots followed a carefully designed flight path that drew a 'Qantas roo' pattern as a final farewell before the aircraft headed out over the Pacific Ocean for the last time.
On 16 November, Qantas marked 100 years of service as the Spirit of Australia.
With the reopening of Australia’s domestic borders, and the vaccination level among Australians rising, demand for travel was increasing. Qantas commenced a return to service program that involved ‘waking up’ aircraft and preparing them for return to service.
During the year, several new Qantas domestic routes began, connecting more destinations with nonstop flights and introducing regional centres such as Burnie, Griffith, Mount Gambier and Proserpine to the network.
Qantas Freight played an important role during the pandemic, as people shifted their focus to online shopping. Vaccines from around the world were transported to Australia for distribution throughout the country.
Government-facilitated flights began operating between Australia and the South Pacific bringing a much-needed workforce to Australia.
In July, Qantas continued a long-standing tradition of carrying Australian Olympic athletes to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
In August, Qantas operated a series of flights to support Australians fleeing civil unrest in Afghanistan.
On 1 November, the first post-COVID commercial Qantas International flight landed in Australia from Los Angeles, followed closely by a flight from London, as Australia opened its borders to returning residents and citizens. Flights from London operated via Darwin due to Western Australia and Singapore Government restrictions.
In February, Australia’s international borders reopened to fully vaccinated tourists, which prompted a surge in travel demand.
In May, the airline confirmed its Project Sunrise order for 12 A350-1000 aircraft, set to conquer the final frontier of long-haul travel. These aircraft will allow the airline to operate nonstop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.
Direct Perth-London services resumed, with the first flight taking off on 23 May after more than two years.
The last of the London flights operating via Darwin occurred on 19 June, with flights returning to travel via Singapore.
The airline introduced several new international ports to the route map, with flights launched to Bengaluru, Seoul, Rome, Dili, Nuku’alofa (Tonga) and Apia (Samoa), as well as new routes connecting Melbourne with Dallas and Perth with Johannesburg.
In August, the airline announced its commitment to return to the Big Apple, with Sydney-Auckland-New York flights set to take flight from June 2023.
The aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt by the global airline industry and Qantas was not exempt from the challenges of recovery and rapidly ramping up services to match surging demand. Passenger numbers across the Qantas Group grew to 46 million in FY2023.
Resourcing this demand for travel after the greatest shock the airline industry has ever experienced was an ongoing effort as airlines around the world worked to return planes and people to the skies while contending with staff retraining requirements and aircraft supply chain constraints.
As well as restarting the entire network, Qantas International also introduced a number of new direct routes including Melbourne-Jakarta, Melbourne-Dallas/Fort Worth, Sydney-Seoul and Sydney-New York via Auckland. In October, a new Perth-Paris service was announced to begin flying in July 2024.
Renewal of the domestic aircraft fleet under Project Winton began with QantasLink taking delivery of the first of 29 new Airbus A220 aircraft for QantasLink replacing the Boeing 717 on regional and intercity routes including Melbourne-Canberra from 2024.
In May 2023, Vanessa Hudson was announced as the new Qantas Group CEO, taking over from Alan Joyce in September 2023.