Why Qatar Operates 12% Full Flights Between Sydney And Canberra

Qatar Airways is operating a daily A350-1000 between Sydney and Canberra with loads of just 12%. Despite this, Qatar Airways plans to persist with the route and is hoping passenger numbers will grow.

Qatar Airways touching down in Canberra. Canberra Airport.

Lacklustre passenger numbers

A report in Australian Aviation yesterday, Wednesday, December 11, 2019, broke the story about the rather lacklustre passenger numbers on the short flight between Australia’s biggest city and its small bush capital just 153 miles to the south west.

Australian Aviation cites statistics from the Australian Government’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics saying just 29,187 passengers used Qatar’s service to Canberra in the year to June 30, 2019.

Having said that, many of those few passengers are lavish in their praise for Canberra’s painless arrival and departure experience.

A Qatar Airways jet at the gate in Canberra. Photo: Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons.

Says one Canberra local on a forum on Australian Frequent Flyer;

“Living in Canberra, and returning to overseas travel in the last couple of years…. how good is it that one can now actually take an international flight from Canberra INTERNATIONAL Airport?”

“I’ve flown out with Qatar four times in the last 18 months, and damn I just love the almost toy-town experience of departing from Canberra airport.”

“Generally its five minutes from arrival to the airport to check in to domestic security to international security to gate. Five minutes.” 

“Sooooo much indescribably better than flying domestically to Sydney and going through the Sydney transfer circus!”

“So much faster than catching a bus to the Sydney International Terminal… etc etc.”

Canberra is about 30 minutes flying time from Sydney. Photo: Sheba_Also via Wikimedia Commons.

Qatar Airways notes that services to secondary cities do take some time to build up. Qatar’s Australasian Senior Manager, Adam Radwanski, said;

“Every new destination that we launch, especially to secondary cities, requires a little bit of time and investment into the route before it becomes really successful.

“Canberra has a lot to offer. We just have to work with the authorities to spread the word about the Canberra. I am sure we can make it work.”

And sure, Canberra is an underrated little city, but the real reason why Qatar Airways sticks it out with Canberra is more interesting.

A bilateral air services agreement is putting the brakes on Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways is currently constrained by a bilateral air services agreement between Australia and Qatar to just 21 flights per week to Australia’s big airports of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.

It is currently at that number and this is the reason why the airline doesn’t fly into Brisbane.

But it can fly further services into Australia if it involves touching down at a regional airport. Canberra, of course, is classed as a regional airport.

Some might say this is a flaw in the air services agreement, but Qatar Airways is able to service the regional airport via one of the big four airports, in this case, Sydney.

Lack of access sees Qatar Airways put A380s onto most of its services to the big Australian airports. Photo: Qatar Airways via Flickr.

So Qatar now flies daily into Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. But it can go double daily into Sydney, and does, if one of those flights keeps going to a regional airport. It’s a neat way to get around the restrictions of a bilateral air services agreement.

As a result, Sydney gets a Qatar A380 each day and a Qatar A350-1000 each day. The latter continues to Canberra and offers the classiest ride around in and out of the bush capital.

Services to Canberra likely to continue despite losses

Australian Aviation quoted an aviation analyst, Brendon Scobie, as saying the Canberra flight was a clever manoeuvre to get around traffic restrictions, albeit an inefficient and costly one.

“Qatar needs to continue operating Canberra-Sydney despite huge losses – even if it succeeds at doubling Canberra traffic – as dropping the route would be unacceptable given the impact on Sydney.

Which is true. Qatar Airways does extremely well on its services to Sydney as Australians. The airline seems willing to wear losses on the Canberra sector in order to keep the second daily Sydney flight. That of course, is good news for Canberra.