Canberra has been named as one of eight new destinations Qatar Airways will add to its fast-growing network.
The announcement was made during a media event in Casablanca on Monday (local time).
Qatar indicated flights to Canberra would begin some time in the 2017/18 timeframe, without providing any further details, such as frequencies and operating aircraft type.
The Australian capital would be Qatar’s fifth destination in this country.
It would also be Canberra’s second international service, following Singapore Airlines’ Capital Express Singapore-Canberra-Wellington flights that started in September.
Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron said he expected Qatar to operate nonstop to Canberra from its Doha hub when flights do eventually commence.
“Our view is that it is most likely, in fact very likely, the service will be in the later evening just as the Singapore Airlines flight is and again that is taking advantage of Canberra Airport’s curfew free status, which has been critical to the development of our international flight operations,” Byron told reporters at Canberra Airport on Tuesday, according to a video of the media conference posted on the airport’s Facebook page.
“It’s a great day for Canberra, a great day for tourism into the city and what a fantastic follow on from the Singapore Airlines first flight which was just 69 days ago.”
Byron said start of SIA’s flights and the Qatar announcement to serve the city would help attract more services.
Further, he said discussions were ongoing with a number of other Australian and overseas airlines about international flights, which could lead to a new service starting before Qatar begins its operations to Canberra.
“We always thought there would be a race to be first to be second if you like,” Byron said.
“We’ve been talking to the other Middle Eastern hub carriers, to the other Asian hub carriers and also to the Chinese airlines about direct flights.
“It is possible that an airline could announce a service to a different route that might commence before that time.”
Watch the full video of Stephen Byron’s statement below from Canberra Airport’s Facebook page:
Currently, Qatar has utilised the 21 flights a week available under the current bilateral air services agreement to Australia’s four major international getaways with its daily flights to Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.
Its less than daily service to Adelaide, as well as the Canberra flight should it eventuate, would not be included in the cap given Qatari airlines have unrestricted capacity to fly between Qatar and Australian regional centres under the bilateral.
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said Canberra would join Dublin (Ireland), Las Vegas (US), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Santiago (Chile), Medan (Indonesia) and Tabuk and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia in 2017/18.
“With today’s network announcement, we will be able to connect more people to more places than any other Gulf airline, and we will ensure our passengers will delight in the journey,” Al Baker said in a statement.
Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) show Qatar Airways carried 35,024 passengers into Australia in August 2016, with an average load factor of 85.8 per cent. Meanwhile, there were 38,176 passengers on Qatar’s flights out of Australia and an average load factor of 93.6 per cent.
The eight new destinations are on top of seven previously announced cities due to receive flights from Qatar in the period ahead.
Qatar said its nonstop Doha-Auckland service, which was first mooted in January 2016, would begin on February 5 2017. The airline is also mounting new service to Sarajevo (Bosnia), Skopje (Macedonia), Libreville (Gabon), Nice (France), Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Douala (Cameroon).