Qantas pre-tax profit soared nearly 15 per cent during the last six months in spite of rising fuel costs, stronger competition on its home patch and international capacity growth.

Underlying pre-tax profit to December 31 reached a record A$976 million, ($1 billion) although net profit fell short of 2016's record A$688 million due to $119 million of costs including redundancies and the introduction of the Dreamliner 787-9 aircraft. Jetstar Group and Qantas Loyalty had record results.

The airline doesn't break out the performance of its New Zealand operations, its Jetstar domestic flights here and Qantas aircraft across the Tasman.

Qantas announced Jetstar will take delivery of 18 new A321NEO aircraft from the middle of 2020. These planes have the capability to fly between Melbourne and Sydney to Bali.

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Chief financial officer Tino La Spina said the new planes would give the airline more flexibility.

The 18 new planes would allow it to retire 22 of its existing A320s or it could hold on to them as they were young aircraft.
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'We can have the ability to grow and if we hit headwinds of course we could retire more. So flexibility I think is one of the key themes you'll see that's come through in the results,''.

Chief executive Alan Joyce outlined plans to set up the biggest pilot training academy in the Southern Hemisphere, capable of training 500 pilots a year. Initially it would be limited to cadets who plan to join Qantas, about 100 pilots a year.

"Over time, we see potential for the academy to become a competitive advantage for Australia in the region. It could train pilots for other airlines and grow into the largest academy of its kind in the southern hemisphere."

The airline also announced plans to expand its popular business lounge at Sydney Airport and will upgrade cabins on its QantasLink turboprops.

Qantas late last year began international operations with 787-9 Dreamliners ahead of scheduled flights linking Australia and Britain for the first time in March.

The airline recently let an option on a 787-9 lapse as it works through the business case for replacing its ageing 747s.

''We need to prove and continue to prove that the 787s are working in Qantas (and) that they will make a significant difference to the business,'' Joyce said.