Victoria’s lockdown appears to have done little to stem Australian aviation’s escalating network wars after Qantas announced it would increase its capacity to 107 per cent of pre-COVID levels and Jetstar to 120 per cent.
The move has been made possible because the airline group negotiated a new deal to utilise up to 18 of Alliance’s E190s, up from an initial 14. This then allowed it to shift its larger 737s to other domestic routes.
Finally, Jetstar will temporarily redeploy three A320s from Jetstar Asia in Singapore to increase its capacity in Australia, alongside the six A320s already on loan from Jetstar Japan.
Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said the new strategy was to “think creatively” about how the business uses its fleet.
“Victoria represents about 20 per cent of our total network and with restrictions in Melbourne easing and as borders start to reopen, we expect to see a quick rebound in travel demand just as we have in other cities when lockdowns ended,” said Joyce. “Our forward bookings certainly suggest that’s going to be the case.”
The new deal with Alliance will see the 94-seat E190s painted in QantasLink livery. Qantas said the jet’s five-hour range makes it well suited to linking regional centres with smaller capital cities.
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 move also means that Qantas’ Canberra-Adelaide frequency can double from nine per week to 18 per week from mid-July.
“Expanding our long-standing relationship with Alliance gives us access to a different aircraft type without spending any capital,” said Joyce.
It comes only a month after Qantas said it would use its existing E190s under the Alliance deal to fly five new routes including services from Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne to Townsville.
It also revealed it would rival Virgin on three new routes that its reborn competitor only announced the week prior.
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.
In May, 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 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.
Meanwhile, Rex said it would rival Virgin and Qantas to fly Melbourne–Canberra from 10 June using one of its new 737s. The move has been delayed due to Victoria’s current lockdown.
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”.