Almost one in ten Qantas flights on the Sydney-Canberra route are being cancelled, according to data published this week – prompting Canberra Airport to call for an industry taskforce to get schedules back on track.
"Canberra is getting slugged with perpetually poor results on the Canberra-Sydney route in terms of cancellations," said airport CEO Stephen Byron, who has called out both Qantas and Virgin Australia for consistently axing flights on the route.
"This issue has been around for a long time... it's not like these are low cost airfares like on Ryanair or Easyjet, that one might expect a level of unreliability about them," Byron told The Canberra Times.
Statistics issued by the Federal Government's Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development showed that Qantas cancelled 8.8% of Canberra-Sydney flights in October and 7.7% of flights on the Sydney-Canberra leg.
Virgin Australia's track record for the same month stood at a more modest 2% in both directions – slightly under October's average national flight cancellation rate of 2.3%, but still above the historical national 'long-term' cancellation rate of 1.4%.
"The long-term (national) average is 1.4 per cent, the industry standard of what is acceptable is below 2 per cent and the reality is on the Canberra to Sydney route, it hasn't been below two per cent for more than five years," Byron told The Canberra Times.
Byron is calling for a taskforce made up of executives from both Sydney and Canberra airports as well as representatives from Qantas, Virgin Australia and Airservices Australia.
QantasLink Chief Operating Officer Jenny Chamberlain said that the airline was revising its Sydney-Canberra schedule "to improve overall reliability."
"A combination of factors has recently led to issues with availability of both aircraft and crew, and this has resulted in cancellations and delays in parts of our regional network. Because our network is interconnected, this has had a knock on effect to several ports, particularly Canberra and regional Queensland."
"The issues include aircraft maintenance taking longer than expected and many of our reserve flight crew pilots being tied up with training one of the largest intakes of new pilots in our history. With fewer reserve pilots, it means we’re seeing an increased level of cancellations if several call in sick on any given day."
QantasLink will reduce the number of daily flights on the Sydney-Canberra route through to late March 2018, but fly more Boeing 737 jets in place of the smaller Boeing 717 aircraft.
For its part, Virgin Australia considers its September and October cancellations as a blip caused by crewing and engineering issues and adverse weather.
"Cancelling flights is never our preference but unfortunately we do occasionally need to change services due to adverse weather, operational requirements or other factors outside our control," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.