Qantas has suggested it could move its hub for non-stop Australia to London flights from Perth to Darwin, due to the uncertainty posed by Western Australia’s “conservative border policies”.
The flag carrier has noted that its non-stop flights between Australia and London are likely to “be in even higher demand” following the COVID pandemic, as passengers attempt to avoid congested airports and long layovers.
As such, the airline is now “investigating” the use of Darwin as a new key transit point between Australia and Europe.
“The airline is investigating using Darwin as a transit point … as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia,” the airline said on Thursday.
Discussions on the option of Darwin, which has been Qantas’ main entry point for repatriation flights, as a new hub connecting Australia and London are continuing, the airline said.
The move is being considered despite Qantas CEO Alan Joyce previously suggesting the airline’s Perth-London 787 Dreamliner service was the “best route on our network”.
For the duration of the pandemic, WA has notoriously and consistently introduced the harshest border restrictions against other Australian states.
WA Premier Mark McGowan recently suggested that even when vaccination targets are met, the state could still restrict entry to travellers from NSW.
“The thing about it is even if you’re vaccinated, you can transmit,” Premier McGowan said on Monday.
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Just yesterday, the state introduced unprecedented measures against interstate travellers coming from NSW, which will see nearly no exemptions for travel awarded, and require similar conditions to entry as travellers returning from overseas.
WA moved NSW into its ‘extreme risk’ category for border restrictions, in which very few arrivals will be offered exemptions, and those that are will be required to be vaccinated, present a negative COVID-19 PCR test before travel, and then enter into 14-day hotel quarantine.
Following the COVID pandemic, long-haul direct point-to-point flights are likely to become more appealing to the travelling public, according to industry analysts.
It comes as Qantas continues preparations for the introduction of Project Sunrise, which would see non-stop flights from destinations such as New York and London to Australia’s east coast.
Qantas was due to finalise a deal to purchase the 12 A350-1000s necessary to make the trip last year, but pushed it back due to COVID grounding all international flights.
In February, Joyce argued that Qantas is the only airline in the world with the ability to make ultra-long-haul, Project Sunrise-style flights profitable.
In an interview with Brussels-based Eurocontrol, Joyce said that this is because global airlines would only require a handful of aircraft to fly to Australia, whereas an Australia-based airline would require a bigger fleet allowing economies of scale to kick in.
In March 2020, Qantas agreed to a deal with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) for its members to fly the London and New York to Sydney/Melbourne routes. However, later that month its order for the 12 A350-1000s was pushed back as the COVID crisis grounded all international flights.
Nonetheless, Joyce reiterated the now-suspended plans could resume later this year, with a view to launching direct flights from London to Sydney in 2024.
“It is a unique opportunity for Qantas because Australia’s so far away from everywhere,” said Joyce “And we could justify a fleet size of a significant amount of aircraft that makes it economic.
“We have three major cities on the east coast in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. And having flights to London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, from those cities, creates a significant sub fleet and economics of scale that we think will work really well.
“So we’re still very keen on it. And we think that’s one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a substantial competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce.”
Joyce said in a separate earlier interview that while the business would “obviously” not put in an order until international markets recover, he was still “very optimistic” about Project Sunrise.
Project Sunrise has not been without its controversies, with AIPA president Mark Sedgwick hinting last year that the COVID-19 crisis played a part in pilots agreeing on a deal to fly the long route.
“This is an incredibly uncertain time for our members, with many stood down from flying on no pay, with no end in sight,” said Sedgwick. “When we return to flying, our expert pilots will be at the helm as part of Qantas’ ultra-long-haul services.”
The vote brought to an end a bitter wrangle between the two camps, with Joyce at one stage threatening to bring in Chinese pilots to fly the aircraft if no deal could be struck.
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