Qantas could launch direct flights to India as part of a new international network reshaped by COVID-19 as the airline seeks to tap into fresh opportunities in the post-COVID world.
Buoyed by a growing population and rapid economic development, India's middle class is set to soar from around 80 million today to a staggering 580 million people - or some 40% of the population – by 2025.
And while the country has in the past posed a challenge for Qantas, the tide – and the profit margin – could be turning.
"India is always a hard market to service, because Indian traffic is spread through so many different cities in India," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce reflected at the recent Reuters Next online forum.
"We've tried to serve it in a number of different ways previously – we had Sydney-Mumbai direct, and Sydney-Darwin-Mumbai at one stage when I was running the network for Qantas, and it never made any money."
"It's just a matter of time..."
"But we are always keeping an eye on it," Joyce said. "We think at some stage, India – with the traffic levels, the economic activity and the links with Australia – will get to a sustainable service, and we think when it reaches that points we’ll add it on."
Joyce said that as part of Qantas' flight path out of COVID-19 "we’re going to be looking for new international opportunities, and India’s just a matter of time... (but) we have to wait and see what happens after the COVID outbreak, which markets respond and grow back."
India is within reach of Qantas' Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 jets, and Qantas has already flown the Boeing 787 to New Delhi as a special charter service to bring home Australians stranded in India as international borders closed.
"Qantas is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities internationally, and we will have the flexibility to add capacity to markets where we think those opportunities are," he added.
Before the coronavirus, Air India offered the only direct link between Australia and India with flights from Sydney and Melbourne to New Delhi, while Oneworld member SriLankan flew between Melbourne and Colombo, with over a dozen onward flights across India.
Singapore Airlines has traditionally proven very popular in connecting travellers from most Australian capital cities to destinations across India via its Singapore hub and its partnership with Vistara.
Another popular option for many premium travellers headed for cities on the western edge of India was to fly business class with Gulf airline Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.