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Qantas hits back to rival Virgin’s new routes

written by Adam Thorn | May 25, 2021
A Qantas 787-9, VH-ZND, as shot by Victor Pody

Australian aviation’s new capacity wars show no sign of relenting after Qantas said it would rival Virgin on three new routes that its reborn competitor only announced last week.

The expansion will form part of seven new routes in total, five of which are currently only serviced by budget subsidiary Jetstar.

Crucially, the announcement means Qantas will soon exceed 100 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity in the next few months. The news marks an increase from Qantas’ April prediction that its domestic capacity would hit 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels in Q4 of FY21.

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The new routes are:

  • Adelaide – Townsville (launching August) – first direct flights;
  • Adelaide – Cairns (launching August) – currently Jetstar only/soon to be Virgin;
  • Adelaide – Hobart (launching September) – currently Jetstar only;
  • Sydney – Townsville (launching September) – currently Jetstar only/soon to be Virgin;
  • Melbourne – Townsville (launching September) – currently Jetstar only/soon to be Virgin;
  • Perth – Gold Coast (launching September) – currently Jetstar only;
  • Sydney – Uluru (launching March) – currently Qantas and Jetstar.

In addition to the new routes, Qantas will upgrade many of its services to larger widebody 787s and A330s.

The 236-seat Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner will begin operating up to nine Sydney to Perth flights per week.

Meanwhile, the Qantas Airbus A330-200 aircraft, which serviced international routes into Asia, will operate on more flights into Darwin from Sydney and Brisbane, and also into Perth from Sydney and Melbourne.

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These will be added to the A330s already flying on east-west routes.

Qantas Domestic and International CEO Andrew David said, “As most international travel remains off limits for now, Australians are taking more regular holidays within the country and we expect these new direct flights to key tourism destinations will be popular with travellers.

“Our customers now have 45 more routes to fly than we had pre-COVID making it even easier for them to get to their next holiday or business meeting. Previously, travelling between these cities meant a connecting flight in the middle, but now they can fly direct and save at least an hour in the process.

“Our strategy of adding new domestic routes is generating revenue from our aircraft rather than leaving them on the ground. It means more work for our people and even more low fares for our customers.”

Many of the new routes will also be serviced by one of its eight activated Alliance Embraer E190s. The deal with the smaller airline has the potential to include up to 14 E190s moving forward.

Alliance welcomed the delivery of 14 new E190s into its fleet in October last year following a $111 million deal for the jets. The new E190s joined its existing fleet of 24 Fokker F100, 13 Fokker 70LRs and five Fokker 50 turboprops.

The news marks the latest development in the apparent second “capacity wars”, as airlines look to expand their networks in a world with fewer border restrictions but no international travel.

Just last week, Virgin said it would hire an extra 250 staff, including pilots, ground staff and baggage handlers, in addition to the 150 new cabin crew roles unveiled last month.

The airline made the announcement alongside revealing plans to launch five new services and significantly increase frequency across its network, including by 30 per cent on the ‘Golden Triangle’.

Virgin will introduce five new services to allow for greater connection from capital cities to major regional destinations: Adelaide-Cairns, Perth-Cairns, Sydney-Townsville, Melbourne-Townsville and Sydney-Darwin.

It will also increase flight frequencies to key Queensland destinations, including Brisbane, the Whitsunday Coast, Hamilton Island, Cairns, Townsville, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast by up to 40 per cent.

Finally, services on the so-called Golden Triangle between Sydney-Brisbane-Melbourne will increase by 30 per cent to support business travel, with an average of 100 flights every day by October.

Virgin said last month it was “committed” to restoring its pre-COVID market share, despite Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce repeatedly claiming his airline group would increase its slice of the domestic industry from 60 to 70 per cent. Qantas also said it would soon by flying more aircraft on their domestic routes than before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Rex said it would rival Virgin and Qantas to fly Melbourne–Canberra from 10 June using one of its new 737s.

It follows last month’s launch of the Sydney-Canberra service, where Rex now operates seven return flights each weekday, alongside flights to the Gold Coast and Adelaide, as well as Sydney and Melbourne.

The new “capacity wars” have seen Rex and Qantas engage in a war of words, which has included Joyce mocking Rex’s “empty aircraft” and Rex deputy chairman John Sharp branding his rival “technically insolvent”.

Just this week, Rex called Virgin “a weak competitor” and accused Qantas of ripping off customers, a claim the flag carrier strongly denies.

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