It was a year of record-breaking numbers for Qantas, from eye-watering profits and margins to ticket pricing and consumer complaints. However, despite the fact that shareholders and executives may be grinning, the airline is still staring down some critical difficulties and opponents.
The company’s previous record, which was set in 2018 at $1.6 billion, appears to be insignificant in comparison to the $2.47 billion full-year underlying profit, which was assisted by a ravenous travel demand, high air fares, decreased jet fuel prices, and a substantial reduction in its structural expenses.
During those pre-pandemic days, the Qantas group, which includes Jetstar, was achieving a return on invested capital of almost 20%. This metric indicates how quickly a company makes profits and provides an indication of its overall profitability. This measure skyrocketed to 103.6% in 2022-2023, which is so high that it appears to be a typo on the page.
The domestic operating margins of Qantas have increased to 18.2%, which is equivalent to a profit margin growth of 50% over the course of the previous six years. Domestic aviation companies in Australia have often had profit margins ranging from 8% to 10% of their total revenue.
The staggering amount of profit could even end up being a flashpoint in the midst of growing unhappiness with the ability of some businesses to produce enormous revenues while at the same time living costs continue to rise.
Joyce had been declaring a loss of $1.86 billion just one year before, but on Thursday, the outgoing CEO who has overseen Qantas since 2008 was presenting the narrative of an incredible comeback. Qantas went from being 11 weeks away from collapse during the pandemic to having a financial position that is “the strongest it’s ever been.”
It has been able to create such enormous returns by charging high ticket prices while offering less capacity, which has been partly needed owing to shortages of staff and challenges with the aircraft supply chain. As a result, it has been able to generate significant profits and record reduced costs, which has been to the prejudice of travelers.
This has amplified the already considerable gap that exists between the experiences of the company’s stockholders and its customers.
Although Air New Zealand’s full-year financial figures were also released on Thursday, which included the announcement of a 132% increase in sales, the company’s share price is still suffering from the pandemic selldown. The share price of the International Airlines Group, which is parent company of British Airways, has followed a path not dissimilar to that of American Airlines Group.
However, the share price of Qantas has rebounded to trade near its highs for 2019 and 2020, as if the pandemic disruptions had never taken place. This recovery occurred on Thursday.
Then there is the other adjustment that Qantas has made to its operations.
Qantas’s reputation for providing excellent service took a beating in the second half of last year as a result of its high rate of mishandled baggage, poor on-time performances, and record-high air fares. The flying kangaroo had long been one of the most trusted brands in Australia, and while part of that image is related to its impeccable safety record, the flying kangaroo had long been one of Australia’s most trusted brands.
The airline Qantas has completely fallen off the list of the most trusted brands. It has now joined the distrust index in the most recent edition of Roy Morgan’s rankings, which was released the previous week, and it is the 13th most distrusted brand in the economy. It is held in lower esteem than the company’s own low-cost airline, Jetstar.
In the meantime, Qantas was the company that received the most complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 2022-23, and as a result, the airline fell 12 places to 17th on the industry’s ranking of the best airlines in the world.
At the press conference where the results were announced, Joyce responded forcefully to allegations that Qantas had been strategically scheduling and then canceling flights out of Sydney airport in order to prevent its competitors from having access to the limited number of available takeoff and landing slots.
Since Qantas is responsible for operating around 66% of all domestic flights, its performance has a significant impact on the percentage of flights that are canceled along the Sydney–Melbourne route, which is just under one in ten.
Joyce stated that “the underlying premise… is just wrong” despite the fact that the industry, together with airports, the Productivity Commission, an independent review, and the ACCC have all advocated for reforms to the regulations they say have allowed major airlines to game the system. They argue the laws have allowed major airlines to game the system. According to Joyce, the claims are “all in self-interest” of the “monopolistic” Sydney airport.
Joyce also defended Qantas’ objection to Qatar Airways’ attempt to practically increase its capacity into Australia, which was another point of contention between the two airlines.
Despite persistently high flight fares and the fact that Qantas’ international capacity won’t be able to recover to pre-Covid levels until the following year, the tourist and aviation industries, as well as state premiers and Qatar’s partner in Australia, Virgin Australia, have shown their support for Qatar’s expansion.
Regarding the concerns with the slots and Qatar, Qantas should congratulate the Albanian government. Its refusal of Qatar’s expansion has been justified, among other reasons, as being tied to Qantas’s new fleet investment, according to Catherine King, the minister of transport in the Australian government.
King has also avoided calls for rapid reform of Sydney’s slot regulations until after the aviation white paper, which is already running behind its projected release for the middle of next year. This is because the aviation white paper is already behind schedule.
Then there is the impending conflict in the court system.
If the top court maintains a ruling made by a lower federal court, which determined that Qantas illegally outsourced 1,700 ground handling jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, then the company is looking at a massive compensation cost that could reach into 10 of millions of dollars.
This week, Qantas also learnt that it would be the target of a class action complaint, which alleges that the company treated the money of its customers as more than “1 billion dollars in interest-free loans” by using travel credits.
Thursday’s numbers did not include any specific reference of either of them as possible legal damages.
The future CEO of Qantas, Vanessa Hudson, expressed confidence that even this result “is not as good as it gets,” despite the fact that it appears that government policies are acting to protect Qantas from competition. Few people would have been surprised by this statement.