Life Travel How Qantas will get its wings back
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How Qantas will get its wings back

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Qantas boss Alan Joyce has demonstrated he’s not afraid to take the hard line, and that’s the kind of attitude that will see the airline through the toughest period yet, an aviation economist says.

While there’s no indication as to when we’ll see the aviation industry return to some semblance of ‘normal’, Mr Joyce is leading the way for Australians to get back in the air, Tony Webber predicted.

As long as Qantas exercises patience and bides its time while it waits for countries and customers to feel comfortable with flying again, it will get past this hurdle, Dr Webber told The New Daily.

“(Travel) will bounce back, and it will bounce back strongly,” said Dr Webber, an airline economist and former Qantas chief economist.

“The timing of recovery of most countries from the virus, that will depend on a range of things, including whether a vaccine is available. It will also be the timing of the recovery from economies – they’re the two things Qantas has to hang out for.”

What’s really standing in between the Flying Kangaroo and its goal of 20 per cent capacity by next month is state border closures.

This hurdle was vocalised by Mr Joyce in the results announcement on Thursday, and echoed by various figures – including Dr Webber and Monash University aviation expert Greg Bamber.

“Closing state borders is too blunt an instrument,” Professor Bamber told TND.

A topic to be debated by the national cabinet on Friday, relaxing border closures – within a sensible framework – would give certainty to travellers, airlines and the tourism industry, Professor Bamber said.

The heavy lifting ain’t over yet

State borders are just one piece of the puzzle – it’s then over to Qantas to get bums on seats, Professor Bamber said.

The author of Up in the Air says the way to do this is keep fares low, and stick to stringent hygiene and best-practise safety on board. This needs to happen in tandem with input from the federal government, he said.

“The federal government should be developing a coherent strategic plan for Australian aviation, which is an essential industry,” Professor Bamber said.

“It should develop a plan that could include equity stakes for struggling airlines; ensuring workers are paid the same rate for the same work; making health and safety the top priorities; ensuring all airport workers stood down have access to JobKeeper; capping CEO pay and executive bonuses, stopping airlines buying back their own shares, regulating fares to ensure there is no monopoly pricing.”

A strong pilot

Qantas was born off the back of the Spanish flu in the early 1920s and has faced as many challenges as Australia has: World wars, recessions and a century of technological advances.

My Joyce took the helm in 2008 in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis.

Since then, he has steered the airline to be one of the most well-known, reputable and profitable in the global skies.

When it comes to navigating the turbulence that is COVID-19, Dr Webber said there isn’t a better person for the job.

“He won’t want to run away from adversity, he’ll want to fight it right on,” Dr Webber said of the Irish-born CEO.

“He’s had a lot of adversity over the past 10 years. It was November 2011 when he basically shut down the whole airline because he wasn’t happy with what the union was doing.

“So you know he’s not scared of adversity. He does well in those difficult circumstances.”

In late July, global travel industry analysts predicted international travel won’t go back to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.

Qantas on Thursday announced its overseas flights won’t resume until July next year.

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