Before the travel downturn, Qantas was making fat profits and in expansion mode. The airline planned to order new planes and happily pitted manufacturers against each other to screw out a decent deal. It was all fun and games until the party stopped. As 2020 rolled around and people suddenly stopped flying, those profits evaporated. Qantas began backpedaling fast.
Twelve months down the track, there are some signs Qantas may once again dust off its checkbook again and revisit its previous plans for aircraft orders. Qantas’ all-important domestic market is recovering in leaps and bounds. The airline is still eyeing late October for a resumption of almost all international flying. That October date might be a tad optimistic. However, most pundits agree international flights should be normalizing by 2022.
With clear signs the worse of the travel downturn is behind us, airlines are cautiously starting to plan for the future and think about (or revisit) growth plans. That includes updating fleets. Qantas is no exception. So, what’s on its horizon, fleetwise?
On the international front, all eyes are on the Project Sunrise A350-1000s
Let’s break the fleet into two components – international and domestic. There’s a little crossover. Some domestic-focused Boeing 737-800s typically fly some short-haul international sectors, while it’s not uncommon to see mostly international Airbus A330s flying longer domestic routes. But generally, there’s a pretty clear division between the two camps.
It seems Qantas will return the A380 to its international fleet. That’s not a new plane, but after a three-year grounding, it might feel like one. Qantas is flagging a 2023 return date. However, 2022 isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
The airline will pick up its final three 787-9 Dreamliners Boeing presently has stored for them. The real action on the Qantas international fleet front will be the Airbus A350-1000 order once Project Sunrise gets rebooted. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is a big fan of Project Sunrise and recently said he wants to get it up and running again in 2022. Qantas will order up to 12 slightly modified Airbus A350-1000s.
The 737 MAX a contender to replace Qantas 737-800 fleet?
Across the domestic market, Qantas’ needs are more complex. The workhorse of the domestic fleet is the aging Boeing 737-800s. Qantas has 80 of them, with an average age of over 14 years.
The competition is largely between Airbus A320neos and Boeing’s 737 MAX. Last year, you wouldn’t have given Boeing’s product much hope. However, since successfully taking to the skies again, the MAX is roaring back into contention. Qantas is expected to decide on this later in 2021.
Away from the mainline Boeing 737-800 fleet, Qantas has a swag of other domestic operations. They include the revenue-rich fly-in-fly-out operations focused on mining operations in Western Australia and Queensland. There are also the fleets operated by subsidiaries QantasLink and Jetstar.
Qantas already has a big order in at Airbus for 100 plus A320 and A321 aircraft. They will mostly go to Jetstar. But depending on circumstances, Qantas might keep a few for itself. Jetstar’s boss, Gareth Evans, recently confirmed deliveries would start in 2022.
Updating QantasLink jets also on the radar
Then there’s the matter of doing something about the Fokker jets and Boeing 717s that fly under the QantasLink banner. In addition to outback mining runs, the Boeing 717s do work flying on the thinner Qantas trunk routes.
Well before the travel downturn, Qantas wanted to replace these planes. Around the same time, Airbus dropped into Sydney with its new A220 on a demo tour. They took the Qantas boss for a joy flight. Apparently, he was reportedly much impressed. The short odds remain on an A220 order, but you’d have to figure the Qantas executives are casting their eye over options like the A319 and the offerings from Embraer.
In summary, what are we looking at? Those surplus Dreamliners and the Airbus A350-1000s for the international fleet. Jetstar is getting a pile of A320s and A321s, and some of those look likely to go to Qantas. Also on the domestic front, the two big decisions are – A320neos or MAXs to replace the 737-800 fleet and A220s to replace QantasLink’s aging Fokker and Boeing 717 fleet? Decisions should start coming from Qantas later this year.
What do you think? What aircraft types is Qantas likely to order? Post a comment and let us know.