Qantas and Cathay Pacific are gearing up for a pitched battle for the skies between Melbourne and Hong Kong as Virgin Australia moves onto the popular route.
Virgin will launch its direct flights on Wednesday July 5, 2017, in a move which will see the challenger go toe to toe with the Oneworld partners but otherwhile frenemies.
"Cathay and Qantas have got (Hong Kong) by the throat" Virgin Australia group CEO Borghetti has previously said.
"We intend to break that duopoly and bring competition not only from the price side but also from the product side."
Expect all three airlines to take an axe to airfares from economy through to business class in the early days of this stoush.
According to statistics from the Federal Government, the Melbourne-Hong Kong route carried an average of 59,000 travellers per month over the last quarter of 2016.
That's estimated to be split between Cathay Pacific and Qantas at close to a 3:1 ratio – and neither airline is going to yield on their slice of the market without a fight.
"We shall fight them in the lounges..."
The ground war will include airport lounges, where both Qantas and Cathay Pacific have an edge, and onwards flights from Hong Kong to China and Europe.
Cathay Pacific also enjoys a higher frequency of flights with three services a day darting between Melbourne and Hong Kong so that passengers can travel at a time that best suits their own schedule, and a premium economy cabin to appeal to business travellers on a budget.
"We shall fight them at the pointy end..."
The aerial dogfight will be fought on more equal terms: while Virgin Australia's newest A330 business class may be arguably superior on specification to those of Qantas and Cathay Pacific, the incumbent's pointy-end product is more than good enough to give would-be defectors pause before changing sides.
Qantas could also choose to leverage the dominance of its frequent flyer scheme, which now had over 11.5 million members on its books, using promotions such as double points and status credits on Melbourne-Hong Kong flights to soak up forward bookings which may otherwise lean towards Virgin Australia.
Australian Business Traveller approached Qantas and Cathay Pacific for their take on Virgin's move and how they would respond, but both airlines declined the opportunity to comment.