Qatar Airways is believed to be operating nearly-empty “ghost flights” between Melbourne and Adelaide to skirt restrictions on flying into major airports.
The Qatari flag carrier, which is allowed to operate 28 weekly flights across Australia’s four major airports of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, also flies daily between Doha and Adelaide via Melbourne. There is no restriction on the number of flights it can operate to minor airports.
As reported by The Guardian, the inbound 777-300ER flight to Adelaide, QR988, has a six-hour layover in Melbourne between 11:30am and 5:35am due to Adelaide Airport’s curfew. Most passengers disembark in Melbourne, with the early Melbourne–Adelaide leg often attracting only single-digit passenger numbers; the airline is not allowed to sell domestic tickets between Melbourne and Adelaide. Qatar Airways also operates a more popular direct flight between Adelaide and Doha, which connects onward to Auckland.
An unnamed industry source told The Guardian that the “whole purpose” of the so-called ghost flights is to increase its services to Melbourne, not Adelaide.
“I mean, they weren’t even selling tickets [to Adelaide] for the first few weeks. They were taking the piss out of the industry and the laws,” the source said.
A spokesperson for Transport and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said in a statement that expanding Qatar’s air rights and allowing the carrier to fly more direct services into major airports was not in the “national interest”.
“The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts approved the Qatar Airways Doha-Melbourne-Adelaide service for the Northern Summer timetable period from 26 March to 28 October 2023, consistent with rights available to airlines under the existing bilateral air services agreement between the two countries,” the spokesperson said.
“A condition was placed on the timetable approval for these flights on this route that they must be available for sale for passengers and cargo arriving and departing from Adelaide.
“The department has previously confirmed this condition is being met by the airline, and will continue to monitor the airline’s operations on this route.”
In Question Time on Wednesday, Minister King said there was not one single factor that had led to the government’s decision not to expand Qatar’s air rights.
“We only sign up to agreements that benefit our national interest in all of its broad complexity, and that includes ensuring that we have an aviation sector through the recovery that employs Australian workers,” she said.
“We will always consider the need to ensure that there are long-term, well-paid … secure jobs by Australians in the aviation sector when we are making this decision.”
Qatar has previously operated a similar daily service between Doha and Canberra via Sydney.