What’s The Difference Between Qantas And QantasLink?

The Qantas Group runs a stable of airlines, the best known being the Qantas brand. Alongside Jetstar, another brand is QantasLink. With an Australia wide network, QantasLink flies routes the bigger Qantas planes cannot profitably operate on. But beyond that, there are a few differences between Qantas and QantasLink. And most are not immediately apparent.

The Qantas and QantasLink brands link up seamlessly. Photo: Getty Images

Different routes and different fleets

QantasLink is a regional brand of Australian airline Qantas. Qantas primarily flies between Australia’s capital cities and a handful of key regional airports (for example, Gold Coast, Alice Springs, Launceston, and Cairns). Qantas passengers flying around Australia will mostly find themselves on either a Boeing 737-800 or Airbus A330.

QantasLink connects Australia’s many smaller cities and towns to the larger Qantas ports. QantasLink has its own fleet of planes, including Airbus A320s, Boeing 717s, Fokker 100s, and Bombardier Dash 8s. The variety of aircraft sizes means QantasLink can rightsize planes to a particular market. The Airbus A320 and Fokker 100 aircraft focus (though not exclusively) on charter and fly-in-fly-out work.

Inflight, most passengers won’t notice much difference between the two brands. Qantas has a few more bells and whistles – for example, inflight WiFi and business class across all its aircraft. But aspects like crew uniforms, catering, and the whole Qantas shtick are reasonably consistent across the two brands.

The two airlines offer seamless connectivity. If I boarded a QantasLink flight in Port Lincoln (PLO) to fly to Adelaide (ADL) to connect to a Qantas Melbourne (MEL) bound flight and onwards to Los Angeles (LAX) on a Qantas Dreamliner, my bags would disappear at PLO and I would have issued boarding passes there for the entire flight.

Bombardier turboprops are the workhorses of the QantasLink fleet. Photo: Qantas

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Differences emerge when digging past the surface

But dig beyond the passenger experience surface, differences begin to emerge between Qantas and QantasLink. Qantas primarily flies its own planes. The airline owns the majority of its aircraft and hires staff to fly and maintain them. There are some exceptions, including some leased Qantas Boeing 737-800s and a Jetconnect subsidiary.

But the QantasLink fleet comes from a grab bag of corporate operating structures. Flying under QantasLink colors are 46 Airbus A320-200s and a pair of A321-200s. Jetstar, Jetstar Asia Airways and Network Aviation variously operate the Airbus aircraft. Network Aviation is a West Australian based company providing air charter services. Network Aviation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Qantas Group.

QantasLink’s 14 strong fleet of Boeing 717-200s were operated by the Cobham Aviation Services subsidiary National Jet Systems. In 2020, National Jet Systems became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Qantas Group, bringing the Fokkers under Qantas’ ownership and control.

Network Aviation also operates the 18 strong QantasLink Fokker 100 fleet. Primarily flying out of Perth (PER), the Fokkers fly miners to remote sites around Western Australia. The Dutch made aircraft perform surprisingly well on what folks style ‘dirty flights’ to rough and ready remote airstrips.

A QantasLink Boeing 717-200 touching down. Photo: Qantas

Sunstate Airlines & Eastern Australia Airlines live on as Qantas corporate entities

QantasLink also flies a varied fleet of Bombardier Q400, Q300, and 200 series turboprop aircraft. For most people, these are the aircraft most associated with the QantasLink brand. The 31 Q400s are operated by Sunstate Airlines, a former Queensland-based regional airline. Australian Airlines acquired Sunstate Airlines in 1990 and Australian Airlines was absorbed into the Qantas stable two years later. In 2001, Sunstate Airlines was one of several Qantas regional airlines rebranded as QantasLink. The Sunstate Airlines brand has disappeared. But the company still exists as a Qantas owned operating entity.

It is a similar story at Eastern Australia Airlines, a Sydney-based regional airline that Australian Airlines picked up in 1991. Also rebranded to QantasLink in 2001, Eastern Australia Airlines continues to be the operating entity of the 11 Q300s, 1 Q200, 1 Dash 8-300, and 2 Dash 8-200s now in the QantasLink fleet.

More recently, wet-leased Alliance Airlines Embraer E190s began flying for QantasLink. Currently flying under Alliance Airlines colors, the deal will soon see Embraers flying under QantasLink colors on mid-size regional jet routes.

Because of the myriad operators and corporate entities, QantasLink can be a tougher airline to get a handle on than the mainline Qantas brand. But the Qantas Group has done a good job bringing the two brands together. With almost identical livery, most passengers don’t dive into the differences between Qantas and QantasLink.