Qatar Airways hopes to permanently add Brisbane to its extensive network, based in part on the airline’s ongoing support of flights to and from Australia throughout the pandemic.
The Gulf carrier’s flights between Doha and Brisbane have been operating on a temporary basis, but the airline has requested this be switched to a permanent arrangement allowing daily flights to the Queensland capital.
“I hope that the government will rethink the request of Qatar Airways, keeping in mind that we were the only foreign carrier that was dedicated, even at a time that we were making losses on the route, to keep on connecting Australia to the outside world,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker tells Executive Traveller.
“Even though there were capacity restrictions and frequency restrictions, we continued our operations to serve the people of Australia, so our commitment was there not only in good times but also in bad times.”
The major obstacle to Qatar’s continued flying to Brisbane is a Government-imposed limit on its services to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, and in particular that Qatar’s second daily Doha-Sydney service must extend to Canberra.
About that odd Canberra leg...
“The problem with Sydney is that if we fly the second daily frequency to Sydney, we have to extend it to Canberra” Al Baker explains.
This is a workaround which allows for doubly-daily Sydney flights if that extra flight continues to a ‘regional airport’ – a category which happens to include the airport for Australia’s capital city.
Qatar Airways began its Doha-Sydney-Canberra route in February 2018, but the schedule called for the aircraft to spend over five hours on the ground at Canberra before returning to Sydney and onwards to Doha.
“That is very uneconomical for us, because we also have to leave the aircraft there for an extended period of time, so this is a very big financial drain – and we have no other alternative because we can only operate two flights to Sydney if we extend one to Canberra.”
Statistics from the Australian Government’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics highlighted that in between July 2018-June 2019, the airline saw a load factor of just 12% on this Canberra leg.
“We cannot bring passengers from Canberra to Sydney, we can only bring passengers in transit to carry them beyond Sydney from Canberra.”
“So we would like to drop it because connecting the capital to Sydney is a route that should be flown by Qantas.”
Another factor in Qatar’s favour for continued flights to Brisbane is that Etihad Airways confirmed in October 2020 that it would no longer fly to the Queensland capital even after the pandemic shockwave subsides.
Brisbane was one of several “underperforming” destinations culled from Etihad’s network, in a decision the airline described as “a commercial one” made “as part of an ongoing review”.