British Airways and Qatar Airways plan to partner on flights to Australia through a joint business agreement which could take wing in the second half of this year.
The pact would step beyond the default relationship of both airlines as members of the Oneworld alliance, which the proposal – lodged with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by multinational law firm King & Wood Mallesons – describes as "arm’s length codeshare and interline arrangements."
Instead, if approved by Australia's consumer watchdog, BA and Qatar would be allowed to co-ordinate on schedules, pricing, sales and marketing, frequent flyer programs and lounge access on over 100 routes, with the overseas destinations predominately in the UK, France, Germany and Spain.
While the UK flag-carrier has just one daily flight to Sydney (via Singapore), Qatar Airways' network extends to Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, with Brisbane often said to be waiting in the wings.
Qatar's Australian fleet includes its flagship Airbus A380, the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777, some of which also sport the airline's widely-acclaimed Qsuites business class.
The agreement would encompass all of Qatar's Australian destinations except for Sydney, which the proposal notes is already served by both BA and Qatar Airways, with the Sydney-London route "highly contested... any attempt by the Parties to co-ordinate on the routes would be quickly defeated by the other airlines who offer services on the route, including Qantas, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific."
Nine 'key routes' are highlighted in the joint business proposal:
- Canberra – London
- Melbourne - London
- Melbourne - Edinburgh
- Melbourne - Manchester
- Adelaide – Manchester
- Adelaide – London
- Perth - London
- Perth - Edinburgh
- Perth - Manchester
Other UK and European destinations include Newcastle, Leeds, Glasgow, Inverness, Belfast, Cardiff, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Bilbao, Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca, Hannover, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Basel and Luxembourg.
BA and Qatar Airways "are seeking interim authorisation as soon as possible" for the joint venture, which would run through until 2025, and have requested that the ACCC grant interim authorisation by early February ahead of a final decision.
The 'joint business agreement' plan submitted to the ACCC – with some sensitive financial information redacted – promises and end-result of "lower average per-passenger costs and, in turn, lower fares as strong competition from other major airlines and alliances means cost efficiencies will be passed on."
Other passenger benefits called out include "the ability to jointly offer loyalty benefits, including reciprocal earn and burn of frequent flyer points, status recognition (and) access to lounges" – benefits already included through both airlines' membership in the Oneworld alliance, but which at the same time could be beefed up as part of the JV.