Among the many pretty slides and play school word cloud fluff in the investor report published for the 2011 Qantas Strategy Day held in Sydney today is the one above, which shows its international full service brand operating only A380s by 2021.

That could be 14 A380s on current orders.

It takes three of anything that can fly the kangaroo routes to London to sustain a daily service with efficient high hours utilisation. Similarly it takes two of anything with sufficient range to provide a daily return frequency non-stop between Sydney or Melbourne to Los Angeles.

Or in other words, in 2012 it will require six A380 to fly the announced double daily frequencies to London, one each way each day from Sydney or Melbourne via Singapore, and four A380s to provide double dailies at that unit size non-stop to the US west coast, and it could be that if the Qantas fleet goes no further than 12 of the big Airbuses by the end of next year then the two unaccounted for will provide essential maintenance spare capacity and also operate the announced four return flights between Sydney and Hong Kong.

Qantas is augmenting its A380s with refurbished Boeing 747-400s, but not after 2021.

The take away from this slide is that at a time when Boeing and Airbus forecast a doubling of the size of the Australian international market (give a few years) Qantas is resolved to become very small.

Even if Emirates stopped at 84 flights a week to Australian cities, it will upsize from a mix of 777s and A380s to mainly the latter, almost certainly in newer stretched versions with higher capacity and lower unit costs, just to keep up growth, assuming it is no more successful at that than it as been in recent years.  The A380 fleet it would have to dedicate to Australia-Europe services would be somewhere between 14 to 20, keeping in mind Sydney growth and London congestion which means those flights will all be in jets bigger than the 777-300ER, its second largest and most frequently flown airliner on its Australian services today.

Of course, it is possible to come up with all sorts of ‘wild’ fleet guesses and no-one knows what ambushes await in a shock prone industry.  The biggest growth anyone can reasonably predict today is between China and Australia, but by the end of this decade serious growth is likely in Vietnam, and we have to expect that India will by then start to realise its traffic growth potential.

Neither Qantas, nor analysts, nor journalists, are likely at this stage to get 2021 right.

But what is tragic about the Qantas fleet simplification graphic is that it has totally abandoned at least so far as a Qantas branded operation is concerned, the commitment to serving the new city pairs that were supposed to be enabled by the 787 Dreamliner when it ordered or optioned up to 100 0f them in December 2005.

It’s not the airliner that matters here, no-one can be certain what the Airbus or Boeing answers for mid range 300 seat jets will really be like in 2021. Both may change their 787 and A350 family options to suit different payload/range priorities than today, and there may be, one hopes, an advanced 777-X family on offer.

What the slide says is that this Qantas management has dealt itself out of the ambitions that underpinned the 787 order.  That notion, put into effective fleet use by Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Thai International and Lufthansa, is not for Qantas.  In fact there may be no real belief in management of any role for Qantas international at all, as with down sizing comes vulnerability and irrelevance, already apparent in the market share taken by those who saw the gaps in the Qantas world view, and filled them.

There are 50 Dreamliners left on firm contract, but earmarked for Jetstar international and Qantas domestic, and as they are widely expected to be operated out of an offshore 787 base by a new entity providing 787 services to Qantas, some of those less-than-A380 sized international routes may be flown by an Asia based Qantas investment, as well as the various owners of offshore Jetstar franchises.

All that Qantas has to do now is take the word Australia off the side of its jets, and call itself something wankey like ‘The New Spirit.’

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