Qatar Airways has been flying near-empty, and generally fully empty giant passenger jets every single day between Melbourne and Adelaide to use a loophole permitting it to run additional flights to Australia.
Qatar’s ghost flights – an open secret inside the aviation sector – are “taking the piss” out of Australia’s strict aviation legal guidelines, business sources say, and are occurring regardless of the Albanese authorities rejecting the airline’s formal request to extend flights out of concern the additional capability would go towards Australia’s “nationwide curiosity”.
The Qatari-government owned airline is at the moment restricted to working 28 weekly providers into Australia’s 4 main airports – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth – permitting it to run as soon as every day return flights from Doha into every of those cities.
Nevertheless beneath the prevailing bilateral settlement, there isn’t a restrict positioned on what number of providers Qatar is ready to run to non-major airports.
In November 2022, Qatar Airways launched a second every day, continuous flight between Doha and Melbourne, however with Adelaide registered as its vacation spot and departure port in Australia.
By flying the 354-seater Boeing 777-300ers between Melbourne and Adelaide, it means the airline doesn’t exceed the 28 weekly providers into main airports it’s allowed to function beneath the prevailing bilateral settlement.
Nevertheless, the airline shouldn’t be permitted to promote tickets on the leg between Melbourne and Adelaide to home passengers beneath Australia’s aviation legal guidelines. It could actually solely carry the few worldwide passengers booked via to Doha who’ve chosen the two-legged route as a substitute of the separate every day continuous flight between Adelaide and Doha that Qatar Airways additionally operates.
Qatar’s QR988 arrives from Doha into Melbourne at 11.30pm every evening, the place nearly all passengers disembark. Nevertheless, any passengers booked to remain on the aircraft for the Adelaide leg should endure a six-hour layover in Tullamarine airport’s worldwide terminal earlier than the flight departs at 5.35am, due to Adelaide airport’s 11pm to 6am curfew.
The QR989, which flies the outbound route to Doha, departs Adelaide at 11.40am every day, lands in Melbourne 1hr 30min later, and travellers have a shorter 1hr 45min layover within the worldwide terminal earlier than the vast majority of passengers board for the continuous flight to Doha.
Passenger numbers on the 354-seat plane common within the single digits on the inbound QR988 leg from Melbourne to Adelaide with the in a single day layover, in response to Guardian evaluation of presidency flight knowledge and confirmed by sources with data of the flights. This flight generally carries no passengers in any respect.
The outbound QR989 Adelaide to Melbourne service has proved barely extra widespread with travellers to Adelaide – there are between 20 and 35 passengers on this flight on common, in response to the evaluation.
Patronage is so low on each Melbourne-Adelaide legs of those journeys they’re thought of ghost flights – the time period for a normally loss-making service operated with zero passengers or fewer than 10% capability as a way to meet an obligation.
The separate, continuous flight between Doha and Adelaide that Qatar Airways flies as a part of its Auckland-Doha service is a considerably extra widespread possibility with Adelaide travellers, the federal government knowledge exhibits.
Qatar Airways beforehand ran a second every day service between Doha and Sydney by extending the ultimate port to Canberra, exploiting the identical authorized possibility.
Whereas flights with a secondary port can encourage international airways to raised serve smaller cities in Australia, the scheduling of QR988 and QR989 have led to a view inside the aviation sector that they’re primarily functioning as second every day Melbourne providers, a number of sources stated.
Such was the case that when Qatar Airways launched the flights in November, it was not promoting tickets on the Melbourne-Adelaide legs to worldwide passengers for the preliminary weeks of the service. The in a single day layover was initially greater than 11 hours.
Pissed off by Qatar exploiting the loophole, the division of infrastructure and transport positioned a situation on the timetable approval “for these flights on this route that they have to be accessible on the market for passengers and cargo arriving and departing from Adelaide”, a spokesperson for transport minister Catherine King stated.
The division now constantly screens Qatar Airways gross sales to make sure “this situation is being met by the airline”, the spokesperson stated.
An business supply stated: “The entire function is to get to Melbourne … I imply they weren’t even promoting tickets (to Adelaide) for the primary few weeks.”
“They have been taking the piss out of the business and the legal guidelines,” the supply stated.
The additional flights might be allowed to proceed even after the Albanese authorities rejected Qatar Airways’ push to fly an extra 21 providers into main airports – one thing supported by most within the aviation and tourism industries in addition to state premiers – after “taking into consideration all nationwide curiosity issues”.
The Guardian understands overseas coverage elements influenced the choice. Others together with Australian girls suing Qatar Airways for damages over pressured invasive bodily examinations, and Qantas, have been against the larger air rights for the airline.
The rejection has fuelled claims that refusing Qatar further air rights advantages Qantas, because it and different international airways stay constrained from growing worldwide flight capability to Australia, at a time of stubbornly excessive air fares and report operator income.
Qatar Airways declined to remark.
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