The Gulf Carriers Battle For Australia

Emirates and Etihad have one thing in common… they are at war with Qatar.

Now when we say war, we don’t just mean price war. The UAE is currently blockading the nation of Qatar, and thus Emirates and Etihad (Both from UAE) have been politically motivated to make life as hard as possible for Qatar.

Routes Qatar had to fly before (left) and after (right) the implementation of the blockade.

But one interesting battleground that these three titans have chosen is one of the most unexpected… Australia.

Why are Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad fighting over Australia?

Australia is rather unique in the world. It has a small population (26 million) who are wealthy and up to 70% of them have a passport. As such, Aussies travel a lot. There is just one problem, Australia is really far away:

  • Sydney to Los Angeles – 15/16 hours
  • Melbourne to Hong Kong – 9 1/2 hours
  • Perth to London – 16 hours

It takes ‘forever’ to get anywhere in Australia, where the shortest drive between two state capitals is 10 hours. It’s the reason why Qantas is so keen to have ultra long-haul aircraft.

They recently put out an open tender to Airbus and Boeing to build them a plane that can fly for more than 22-24 hours straight! And they will be making an order in 2019.

Until then, any travel to Europe has to go through either Asia or the Middle East. The Gulf states are well situated to take advantage of this market.

What about local competition?

Australia only has ‘two’ airlines. Qantas and Virgin Australia. Qantas is the national flag carrier (although it has been private for many years) and owns its very profitable low-cost carrier Jetstar. Virgin Australia is battling Qantas neck and neck and has its own (smaller) low-cost carrier Tiger Air (Which I reviewed here).

But as we mentioned before, there is no plane that can fly all the way to London from the east coast, thus both airlines have partnered with a middle eastern carrier to codeshare the route.

Virgin Australia has partnered with Etihad and allows virgin points to be spent via Etihad guest loyalty program.

Qantas is partnered with Qatar as part of its Oneworld alliance…

Well… not quite. it seems Qantas has flipped the script and partnered with Emirates instead.

The problem with Qantas and Qatar.

As we have discussed many times on Simply Flying, Qatar and Qantas have a beef with each other.

This has pushed Qatar even further to leaving Oneworld and starting their own ‘Mega Alliance’ (Which you can read all about here).

As for Qatar’s expansion into Australia, they currently fly into all major Australian cities bar Brisbane (Which they say they are working on). And to grab market share, they have been quite aggressive with their two rivals.

Qatar vs Emirates vs Etihad
One way, Sydney to London in May. Source: Google Flights

What is odd that Qatar is claiming they are in Australia as a guest of the government, and that Virgin and Qantas both had no problem letting their ‘partners’ into Australia (Etihad and Emirates) respectively.

Qatar vs Etihad vs Emirates
Return Sydney to London in May. Source: Google Flights

This is because Australia has always been a duopoly Air Industry. Through high tariffs throughout the 70s and 80s, the government restricted there to only be two players (Back then Qantas and now defunct Ansett). Now it seems the same system is continuing.

And it may get worse if Etihad and Emirates merge.

Qatar does not have a chance to find a new partner in Australia (as the only two are taken) and will have to fight tooth and nail for every airport they can get.

What do you think? Is Qantas right? Or Qatar?