Qantas to offer 32,000 cheap flights a week
Qantas and Virgin Australia have hailed the federal government's aviation support package as "fantastic news" that will stimulate demand for air travel and help get employees back to work.
The $1.2bn industry-wide package included hundreds of thousands of half-price fares for travellers, cheap loans, and direct support to keep aeroplanes in the air and employees in jobs.
Qantas and Jetstar will offer the lion's share of the 800,000 half-price fares, putting 550,000 on sale, or about 32,000 a week, for four months.
The cheap seats are on flights to regional destinations such as Cairns, Alice Springs and Launceston and will be available for purchase on the airlines' websites from April 1 for travel from May 1.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said with the vaccine rollout, it was the perfect time to provide stimulus for the industry, and get people travelling domestically again.
He said the package would help bring more domestic crews back to work and help support 7500 international business employees who had already been stood down for a year.
"The targeted support from the Federal Government is about helping people stay connected to aviation despite the extended of period of time they still face on the ground," said Mr Joyce. "It helps preserve the skills and experience we're going to need when long haul flying restarts. In a country like Australia, that capability has taken years to build and is absolutely crucial for the nation's future."
Mr Joyce insisted the government support for employees was "not a subsidy for Qantas" and would go directly to employees to help them meet their cost of living while waiting for international flying to return.
"In total, this package is a lifeline for broader travel and tourism sector in Australia, just as it's trying to get back on its feet," said Mr Joyce.
"Ultimately, it's an investment in an industry that has always been a huge driver of economic activity and will be again."
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said the announcement was good news for all Australians.
"The economic impact this will have cannot be underestimated. This is a once in a generation event that is going to give the entire tourism industry supply chain a significant boost, which it desperately needs," Ms Hrdlicka said.
"We have so many amazing tourism destinations right here in Australia, and this program enables irresistible prices that will get Australians out exploring the multitude of historically relevant, interesting and beautiful places we are lucky enough to have in our domestic backyard."
She said Virgin would also be able to bring more people back to work, "as long as domestic borders remain open".
"On behalf of everyone at Virgin Australia - including all of our employees - I sincerely thank the federal government for the support provided to the aviation industry in the last 13 months," said Ms Hrdlicka.
"This ongoing support has been critical for our industry and recognises the vital role Australia's airlines play in connecting Australia and fuelling economic growth across many sectors,."
Virgin Australia was hopeful of being back to 70 per cent pre-COVID domestic capacity by Easter, from a current level of about 50 per cent.
The tourism industry was not so enamoured by the package, saying it would fail to stem major job losses and closures occurring among many small, family run and larger tourism businesses.
Australian Tourism Industry Council director Simon Westaway said it was deeply disappointing that direct, targeted and short-term assistance for tourism enterprises had no part in the multi-pronged package.
"We are on the cusp of a national vaccine rollout bringing future confidence to domestic travel. Yet the package doesn't address at-risk tourism jobs in our cities and regions," Mr Westaway said.
"Fundamental to our industry's sustainability is the state of tourism businesses and reliant jobs in our capital cities, where interstate and international visitors and major events have evaporated".
Originally published as Qantas to offer 32,000 cheap flights a week