Qantas looks set to return to Fiji for the first time in many years in 2019 after lodging an application for capacity rights to serve the popular Pacific Island tourist destination.
The airline’s has asked Australia’s International Air Services Commission (IASC) for 696 seats per week between Australia and Fiji.
“Effective during the Northern Summer scheduling season, commencing 31 March 2019, Qantas plans to commence services between Australia and Fiji route using B737 aircraft,” the application dated November 27 and published on the IASC website said.
As Qantas’s Boeing 737-800s are configured with 174 seats – 12 business recliners in a 2-2 layout and 162 economy class seats at six abreast – the application for 696 seats a week suggested the airline is planning to operate four return flights a week between Australia and Fiji.
A Qantas spokesperson confirmed it was the airline’s intention to return to Fiji, adding that further details would be released at a later date.
“We are planning to launch new services from Australia to Fiji, where we are seeing increased demand for premium travel,” the spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.
Qantas last flew to Fiji with its own aircraft in the early 2000s. Currently, it codeshares on Fiji Airways’ nonstop flights from Nadi to Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as between Sydney and Suva.
The Australian carrier has owned 46 per cent of Fiji Airways since 1998.
Meanwhile, the Qantas group’s low-cost carrier unit Jetstar began serving Nadi in 2010 with Airbus A320s. The LCC currently operates nonstop between Sydney and Nadi.
The third airline with nonstop flights between Australia and Fiji alongside Fiji Airways and Jetstar is Virgin Australia, which serves Nadi from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney with 737-800s.
The Qantas spokesperson said the proposed flights to Fiji would complement Jetstar’s existing services and the codeshare agreement with Fiji Airways.
A return to Fiji is the latest example of Qantas returning to previously dropped routes.
The airline returned to the Perth-Singapore route in 2015 after a year off the route.
And in 2017, Qantas recommenced Sydney-Beijing nonstop flights for the first time since it dropped the Chinese capital from its route network in 2009.
Australia-Fiji air services agreement was expanded in October
Qantas’s application to serve Fiji comes a month after the governments of Australia and Fiji agreed to expand the air services agreement to increase the number of available seats for airlines of both countries by 20 per cent.
Previously, airlines of both countries were utilising just about all of the 6,500 seats of available capacity from Australia’s four major gateways of Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to Fiji. There were no capacity restrictions to Australian cities other than those four points.
However, as a result of the the expanded bilateral, the register of available capacity on the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities website shows that as of October 5 2018 there were 701 seats currently available for Australian flag carriers from the four major gateways to Fiji. From March 31 2019, the number of available seats for use increases to 1,401 seats.
Meanwhile, figures from the Department showed Fiji Airways had utilised 6,490 seats during the 2017/18 Northern Winter season to the four gateways.
Fiji Airways has announced previously it is replacing all of its 164-seat Boeing 737-800s and 122-seat 737-700s with soon-to-arrive 185-seat 737 MAX 8s, representing a double-digit percentage increase in capacity.
Further, the airline earlier added a sixth Airbus A330 widebody to its fleet, which may also be deployed on Australian routes.