Fiji Airways is cutting its flights into Adelaide effective 21st July 2019. The airline is calling this a “temporary pause” but online searches over the 2019/2020 year shows no resumption date. It is the second direct service Fiji has lost in as many weeks, with news that Korean Airlines is also cutting its Seoul-Nadi service from 1st October 2019.
A report in atwonline quotes a Fiji Airways spokesperson as saying the “pause” in the twice weekly Nadi-Adelaide service was due to several factors, including aircraft availability.
Fiji Airways has 12 jets in its fleet, a mix of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, which include two grounded 737 MAXs. The airline has brought in a leased a 737-800 in the interim. But schedules are designed around aircraft availability and Fiji Airways is still one plane short.
Profitability (or the lack thereof) could also be a factor. Cutting a service and blaming fleet capacity constraints is always a softer blow than saying “we can’t make money on the route”. A marginal route like Nadi-Adelaide was always going to be amongst the first to be cut.
The short lived Nadi-Adelaide flights
The Nadi-Adelaide Boeing 737 flights have only been running for two years. The first flight touched down in Adelaide on 30 June 2017. At the time, the number of Adelaide families jetting off to Fiji for holidays and a healthy expatriate Fijian community living in Adelaide were cited as justifying the service.
Adelaide Airport was certainly pleased. The ambitious South Australian capital city airport has always struggled to attract international services. Fiji Airways is the only airline flying Nadi-Adelaide direct.
Qantas does not offer international services out of Adelaide.
Given the Fiji Airways flights were heavily targeted towards families, the Adelaide flights attracted criticism for their not so family friendly schedules.
The Fiji Airways flights left Adelaide at 23.00 for a 05.40 touch down in Nadi, which were not very family friendly hours. The early morning arrival either forced inbound passengers to hang around somewhere until their mid afternoon hotel check-in or pay for an extra night’s accommodation to allow early morning check in.
This may seem trivial, but it matters in a price sensitive, family focused holiday destination like Fiji.
A history of failed services to smaller Australian airports.
While Fiji Airways has long had a presence at the big Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports, it has had less success at smaller Australian airports.
In 2004, back in the days when Fiji Airways was known as Air Pacific, there was a short lived attempt to fly into Canberra, possibly in the belief that hordes of public servants and their children in the chilly Australian bush capital would flock to warmer Fijian climes for their holidays.
It didn’t last long.
In December 2008, Air Pacific started flights on the Nadi-Gold Coast route. That too was an interesting decision given the airline already flew into Brisbane, one hour’s drive north. Within six months the Gold Coast flights were axed.
The Nadi-Adelaide flights are a part of a pattern of attempting to fly into smaller Australian airports and not succeeding. Will the lesson be learnt?
What about A350s to Perth?
Fiji Airways is getting its two A350s later in 2019 and they will initially be seen on the Nadi-Sydney and Nadi-Los Angeles routes.
The aircraft are a significant upgrade on the existing A330s they use to service these routes.
Currently, residents of Perth and Adelaide cannot do nonstop transpacific flights. It’s just too far. So they have to transit somewhere, usually Sydney or Melbourne.
But Air New Zealand cleverly taps into this market by running their top notch 787 Dreamliner services from both Adelaide and Perth, transiting through Auckland, and then sending its ex Perth and Adelaide passengers off across the Pacific.
Auckland is a far more transit friendly airport than Sydney, and Air New Zealand has built a solid market share on the back of this strategy.
An idea is being tossed around in frequent flyer forums is that once Fiji Airways gets their A350s up and running, they could adopt a similar strategy, particularly out of Perth. The idea is contingent in the airline having quick and seamless transits in Nadi.
It’s an interesting idea, perhaps unwise given Fiji Airways’ established record of failure when flying to smaller Australian airports. But with their quality product, friendly schedules, and easy transits, Air New Zealand makes it work.
Perhaps, with some clever marketing, Fiji Airways could too.