Alan Joyce supports quicker relaxation of isolation rules

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce AC says Australia can “move a bit faster” on relaxing rules around isolation for close contacts as the nation embarks on its economic recovery.

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Mr Joyce was speaking to more than 400 guests at a lunch hosted by the Victorian Chamber at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Asked about the current rules on isolation and masks, he said: “We’ve always said with restrictions that when they go on they go up in the lift and they come down on the escalator. We need to speed up that escalator in my belief.”

While other places, such as the United Kingdom, are easing rules, Victoria remains in lockstep with other states on isolation. At the peak of the Omicron wave Jetstar had 45 per cent of its workforce contract COVID-19 or be sidelined as a close contact, creating a huge impact on services.

Mr Joyce spoke positively about how Qantas is rebounding from the pandemic which all but shut down international travel and severely restricted domestic travel.

“Domestic is booming”, Mr Joyce noted, with the sector expected to reach 110 per cent pre-COVID levels for easter and 120 per cent by the end of the year.

Leisure has also been over 100 per cent pre-COVID, while the corporate and SME market is also tracking back towards 100 per cent, in positive news for inner city hospitality, services and hotels.

Qantas has started 52 new routes, including 11 new routes from Melbourne. One of those is Melbourne to Busselton, which is sold out for next three months.

Meanwhile, the international market is still 44 per cent of pre-COVID capacity, with Mr Joyce expecting 85 per cent by the end of the year. Getting resources to be able to able to facilitate that return is difficult, however.

Mr Joyce offered a staggering insight into the resources needed to reactivate an A380 airplane, which involves 4,000 hours of manpower, including a pilot in the simulator before being able to fly one again.

Customer service is also under strain amid constant rule changes, with Qantas’ call centre going from 5,000 calls a day to 15,000.

Positively, Mr Joyce believes Australia will become a destination market again. He speaks of “brand recovery”, promoting regional tourism again and shaking off an impression that Australia is in continuous lockdowns.

Victorian Chamber Deputy President Adrian Kloeden, Network Ten News Presenter Candice Wyatt, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, Victorian Chamber President Karyn Sobels and Victorian Chamber Chief Executive Paul Guerra

The company is doing its part, recently releasing a new advertising campaign with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Hugh Jackman as “Australia has a good story to sell”.

“The way we’re positioned we could do very well,” Mr Joyce adds.

It marks a welcome return for the national carrier which, Mr Joyce notes, was making record profits until COVID-19 hit the airline worse than September 11, Global Financial Crisis and other epidemics.

The “pandemic knocked Qantas for six”, leaving it with 11 weeks of cash reserves left before going bankrupt. Some 11,000 people had to be made redundant and another 22,000 stood down.

“Making people redundant was heartbreaking,” Mr Joyce says, adding the only thing keeping the airline going was its reputation as the longest continuous operating airline in the world and belief that getting through to the other end would make it stronger domestically and internationally.

Qantas is now recruiting again and renewing its fleet. It is a “credit to the true grit and resilience of our people,” Mr Joyce said.

Outlook

Mr Joyce supported the Victorian Chamber’s push for more major events for Victoria and government support to boost tourism. He said other states looks down on Victoria with envy.

“Competition is important for Australia to make cities more attractive. Big events make a big difference,” Mr Joyce says.

“Internationals make multiple trips around Australia. It is well worth the investment - it just needs governments to keep being competitive.”

He is also supportive of a third runway at Melbourne Airport.

“A third runway is needed… [however] the framework should be that you don’t pay in advance for this infrastructure.”

He also backed policy initiatives such as the supporting tourism sector, returning skilled migration and reforms to the industrial relations and tax systems to make them more efficient.

While recovery is afoot, many hurdles are to be expected on the way.

Mr Joyce evoked former Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon in referring to “constant shock syndrome” when dealing with global events.

“One crisis ends and another starts,” he said, alluding to the Russia-Ukraine conflict which, apart from the humanitarian disaster, has also created a fuel crisis.

However, Mr Joyce is in lockstep with other countries in shaking Australia’s dependency on Russia and the Middle East for fuel.

He is also a big supporter of sustainability, which he conceded is the “biggest challenge for aviation” However, “if we don’t get this right, our grandchildren won’t have the chances we did”.

Mr Joyce spoke of Qantas’ work towards sustainable aviation and protecting the environment, with the airline committing to net zero carbon by 2050.

Its climate action plan includes a fleet renewal that includes new 787 aircraft producing 25 per cent less emissions than a 747, and using biomass as a sustainable fuel option, which is 80 per cent cleaner than jet fuel.

Underscoring the company’s commitment to action, it recently signed an agreement in Australia’s Wheatbelt for reforestation to produce eucalyptus oil for sustainable fuel.

Despite increased developments in road transport in hydrogen and electric technologies, density is a problem for aviation.

“Maybe in the next decade it could be a possibility for short flights like Sydney to Wagga Wagga,” Mr Joyce noted, but at the moment batteries are 34 times weight of fuel while hydrogen would need a “few rows of seats taken out to put tanks in”.

Mr Joyce said overseas governments have been proactive on environmental policy through subsidies and encouraging jobs in the sector.

He’d like to see a similar in Australia to make the country an energy powerhouse, a vision which aligns with the Victorian Chamber’s.

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