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Better to cancel Sydney–Melbourne than Sydney–Darwin, says Joyce

written by Jake Nelson | August 29, 2023

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce speaks at the airline’s 2023 Investor Day. (Image: Screen grab from Qantas webcast)

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has defended high cancellation rates on the Sydney–Melbourne route, saying the Flying Kangaroo is trying to minimise network impacts.

Under questioning from the Senate Select Committee on Cost of Living on Monday, Joyce effectively said the national carrier is triaging services due to circumstances outside its control and that it is better to concentrate cancellations on high-frequency routes than to spread the pain out.

According to Joyce, cancellations at Sydney Airport have often been unavoidable thanks to external factors, meaning the airport has been unable to reach its cap of 80 hourly aircraft movements including 50 arrivals.

“What’s typically happened this calendar year, because of weather and air traffic control shortages, is that it has been achieving 38 arrival movements an hour. Our biggest hub in Sydney is restricted to 38 instead of 50. That means a lot of cancellations on average,” he said.

“To disrupt less customers, the easiest thing we can do is to concentrate the cancellations on a high-frequency route like Melbourne and Sydney because that means that there’s a flight every half hour – we can accommodate people on the later flights.


“A network airline like Qantas … could spread those cancellations, and have three and a half per cent cancellations across its entire network, which means regional communities or Darwin or Adelaide get disproportionately impacted.

“If we cancel the one flight a day from Sydney to Darwin, people are overnighting. But if we cancel a half-hour service on Melbourne–Sydney, we can get people on services around that.”

Joyce dismissed comparisons by Senator Matt Canavan to Rex’s jet services, saying the smaller carrier flies fewer routes and thus sees less of an impact on its network from cancellations at Sydney.

“Rex only has a service on jets between Sydney–Melbourne and Sydney–Brisbane. We have a network to protect,” he said.

“If you had a choice, Senator, and you were our schedule planner, [would you] cancel the Sydney-Darwin, or focus all your cancellations on Melbourne-Sydney, to protect the rest of the network-wide operation? Rex don’t have to worry about that.”

Around 2,300 flights between Sydney and Melbourne across major carriers were cancelled in the first six months of 2023. Data released by BITRE showed there were 380 cancellations in June 2023 alone between Sydney and Melbourne airports both ways, with a cancellation rate of 8.9 when departing from the Victorian capital.

This figure climbed slightly to 388 total cancellations between the two capitals in July, with a rate of 8.7 per cent from Sydney and 8.5 per cent from Melbourne. That compares to the long-term cancellation rate nationwide of just 2.2 per cent.

Qantas’s cancellation rate on the busy Sydney–Canberra route, meanwhile, is around 11.5 per cent, with Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron calling on the government to fine the Flying Kangaroo.

“When you have a cancellation rate of above 10%, which is just extraordinary and double any of the other routes, I think the federal government’s got to have a look at fining Qantas because they’re the only ones that do it,” he said, as reported by the ABC.

“If you fly Virgin to Sydney from Canberra, [the cancellation rate is] about 3.6 per cent, so Qantas cancel three times as often.”

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