As Qantas teeter on the edge of selecting a plane for Project Sunrise, will they feel the pinch of competition on the world’s longest route? With British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both receiving new planes and fresh products, why don’t they step up and compete on ultra long haul flights to Australia?
With Qantas potentially two years away from beginning nonstop Sydney to London flights, will they herald in a new era of ultra long haul flying? Normally when one airline opens a new, lucrative route, others are quick to jump on the bandwagon to grab their piece of the pie.
However, in this case it seems the pie is all Qantas’. The only airlines with any real potential (or any rights) to compete with Project Sunrise would be British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. So why don’t they want to challenge Qantas for the ultra long haul market?
It’s working for Qantas
Qantas took a gamble when they launched the world’s longest route: Perth to London nonstop. Some thought that spending that long on a plane would be nothing short of hell on earth (or in the sky), but it seems they might have been wrong.
Qantas recently celebrated the one year anniversary of this ultra long haul route with a report that they’d enjoyed a staggering 94% load factor on their flights. The route turned a profit from day one, and over the entire year there were only four cancellations on the flight.
That’s amazing, and a sure sign of things to come. So, will the other airlines who are allowed to fly such a route do so? It seems not.
Virgin stopped flying to Australia altogether in 2014, and BA have slowly been withdrawing from the antipodean market. They ceased operations to Brisbane in 2000, and to Melbourne and Perth in 2006. Right now, they only fly to Sydney via Singapore, and then only once a day.
It’s a no from me, Willie
Speaking to Australian Aviation, CEO of IAG, the group that owns British Airways and others, has said that there are no plans to operate ultra long haul nonstop services between the UK and Australia. Speaking at a CAPA conference last year, he said,
“I fully expect BA to continue to have a presence here in Sydney. I’d like to think we could expand back into Melbourne at some stage … We’re not looking to do direct flights from Heathrow to Australia. I think Alan has successfully pioneered that.”
Previously, British Airways used to codeshare with Qantas, making it easy for passengers to complete a one stop itinerary between the two nations. However, that ended in 2013, when Qantas forged a partnership with Emirates, and British Airways did so with Qatar. Today, Qatar owns a 20.1% share in IAG.
At the time, British Airways almost completely withdrew from Australia, but maintained the Sydney route and have found it to be a success. Despite the incredible achievements of Qantas on the direct Perth to London route, Walsh says that it’s still not on the cards for BA.
“Personally, the idea of sitting on an aircraft for 21 hours to get from Heathrow to Sydney, I don’t know, it just doesn’t appeal to me.”
He did say that codesharing in future could be an option, but that BA are not considering anything in the ultra long haul to Australia using their own metal.
What about Virgin?
Virgin too seem to have limited aspirations when it comes to the Kangaroo route. Although Richard Branson told the Telegraph last year that he wanted to start nonstop flights to Australia “as soon as possible”, it seems he was speaking from a personal point of view.
Although Branson is often considered the boss of Virgin, these days he has only a minority share in the airline. No longer on the executive team and with just a 20% shareholding, Branson tends to leave the decision making to others in the business.
In fact, the same report quotes a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson who said, “We don’t have any plans to launch flights to Perth,”. That sentiment is echoed in the recent news that Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia plan to deepen their ties, making one stop itineraries in Hong Kong more logical than any sort of direct route.
Although BA and Virgin both have the ability to replicate the successful Perth-London route, and even to look at competing on the ultra long haul market, it seems that this is just not in the business plan right now. For the time being, the longest route in the world is being reserved for Qantas only.