By Jill Gralow and Jamie Freed
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Qantas Airways Ltd engineers are preparing for the airline’s fleet to ramp up international flying starting Nov. 1, when Sydney opens to fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents without quarantine.
With the exception of its Airbus SE A380 super-jumbos, which remain stored in the Mojave Desert in California, most of Qantas’ international fleet has already been doing some limited flying on cargo and repatriation flights.
“What we do is have them on a bit of a part-time schedule so they have been doing one day a week rather than seven days a week,” said John Walker, the airline’s head of line maintenance.
Australia applied strict border rules in March 2020 that stopped citizens from exiting without special permission and required two weeks of hotel quarantine for all arrivals, leading Qantas to stop regular international passenger flights.
Qantas engineering staff at Sydney Airport on Thursday were checking brakes and tyres and catching up on some minor maintenance work on its fleet of A330 planes that were flying on lighter schedules.
“For this aircraft, if it were in a deep sleep, it would be over 1,000 man hours with full crews of 12 or 15 to wake the plane up,” Walker said. “We started doing these wake-ups many, many months ago.”
In California, Qantas has a team of engineers in Los Angeles that regularly drives two hours to the Mojave Desert to carry out checks on the A380 fleet, he said.
The desert environment there is drier than Alice Springs in central Australia, where other carriers including Singapore Airlines Ltd and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd have stored planes, he added.
Qantas expects five of its 12 A380s to return to service from July 2022 for London and Los Angeles flights, while two are being retired.
London and Los Angeles are also the first destinations for flights from Sydney on Nov. 1. Six weeks later it will start flights to Vancouver, Singapore Fiji and Japan.
It marks a major milestone for an airline that has done little international flying since March 2020 and has lost A$20 billion ($15.08 billion) of revenue due to the pandemic.
“We are now seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said at an industry conference on Thursday. “We see there is huge interest in people planning their trips for next year.”
($1 = 1.3264 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Jill Gralow and Jamie Freed. Editing by Gerry Doyle)