Qatar Airways’ share of passengers travelling to and from Australia leapt from just 3 per cent to 44.5 per cent in April.
The jump meant the carrier, owned by the namesake state, is now by far the biggest in terms of passengers carried – with previous number one Qantas slumping from 17.9 per cent to just 2.9 per cent.
The independent figures, recently released by the Australian government’s Bureau of Infrastructure, appear to confirm statements from the airline itself that it’s now the world’s biggest.
The business said in a statement last week, “While many airlines operating to Australia suspended operations, leaving people stranded, Qatar Airways added an additional 28 weekly flights (approximately 48,000 extra seats) on top of its regular 21 weekly flights during April to help take people home.
“During this period, the airline also launched its first flights to Brisbane, bringing the first A350-1000 to the river city’s airport.”
Qantas and Virgin virtually suspended all international operations at the end of March as the coronavirus pandemic caused nations to shut their borders.
However, at the start of April, the two carriers resumed limited international flights to Australia from London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland after agreeing to a repatriation deal with the government.
The subsidised services ran over four weeks and included freight capacity for imports and exports.
The financial package wasn’t enough to help it compete with Qatar though, which topped passengers carried followed by Air New Zealand and United with 4.8 per cent apiece.
Overall commercial scheduled passenger traffic in April 2020 was 69,500, compared with 3.5 million in April 2019 – a decrease of 98 per cent.
Around 235,348 seats were available to and from Australia, a drop of 95 per cent compared with April 2019.
On average, seat utilisation was just 30 per cent, meaning most planes ran mostly empty, with some likely to be carrying only a handful of passengers.
Internationally, Qatar claims to have accounted for almost one in five international passengers in April globally.
In terms of ‘revenue passenger kilometres’, it said it was bigger than the next four carriers combined, according to statistics released by the IATA.
The airline has launched a huge PR offensive on the back of continuing to soldier on during the pandemic, using the slogan ‘Taking You Home’.
Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker, said, “While many airlines suspended operations, we continued to maintain a robust schedule and network. Our network never fell below 30 destinations and we have recently begun to regrow our global network with over 170 weekly flights to more than 40 destinations and plan to resume over half of our previous destinations by the end of the summer season.
“Our commitment to the travel market is clear, Qatar Airways is the airline passengers and trade partners can rely on now and in the future.”