The Reason Qatar Airways Cannot Operate More Flights To Australia

Yesterday Ben wrote about how Qatar was threatening to leave the oneworld alliance (but wouldn’t).

One of Qatar’s reasons was because of fellow oneworld member Qantas, where Qatar said:

It is blocking us getting rights into Australia

You might be wondering what Qatar meant by this, given Qatar has a huge fleet and global route network, so I thought it would be useful to explain what I believe Qatar Airways’ Al-Baker meant by this.

Qatar Airways’ current Australian operations 

Qatar currently operates the following flights to Australia:

  • Sydney: daily A380 service (that terminates at Sydney), as well as a daily 777-300ER flight that continues on to Canberra
  • Melbourne: daily A380 service
  • Adelaide: daily A350 service
  • Perth: daily A380 service
  • Canberra: daily 777-300ER service that goes via Sydney in both directions (as mentioned above)

So Qatar has daily flights to Adelaide and Canberra, yet no service to Brisbane, which is a much bigger airport than both Adelaide and Canberra.

Do you find that odd?

There’s a reason for it.

Air Services Agreement

Some countries have Open Skies Agreements with each other, which allow airlines based in either country to operate either unlimited flights between the two countries within that agreement, or flights with few restrictions. For example, the European Union and the USA have an Open Skies Agreement, hence why we regularly see new or increased services between the two regions.

There has also been substantial coverage of the Open Skies Agreement between the USA and Middle Eastern countries, which the ‘US 3’ have challenged as unfair.

The countries of Qatar and Australia (remembering Qatar is not part of the UAE), do not have an Open Skies Agreement, so airlines based in either country cannot operate unlimited services between the two countries. Instead, they have an Air Services Agreement/Treaty, which allows airlines in either country to operate up to 21 direct services each week between the two countries. But the direct flights to Australia from Qatar must be limited to the following four major airports:

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane
  • Perth

21 direct flights per week allows for three direct flights per day, so not enough for a daily flight to each of the four airports listed above.

Qantas does not operate any flights to Qatar (or the Middle East at all, since moving its UK stopover from Dubai back to Singapore). Although Doha is a oneworld hub, Qatar operates a fortress hub at Doha, especially since the Gulf Blockade began — unlike Dubai or Abu Dhabi, whenever I’ve flown through Doha, there are hardly any planes not in Qatar livery.

I cannot see Qantas operating any flights to Doha anytime soon.

Qatar has built their Australian route network around these restrictions by choosing Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to operate direct service to under the Air Services Agreement. They operate a daily non stop flight to each, so 21 flights per week in total.

With such restrictions, Qatar sends their biggest aircraft, their A380 to each city each day, despite only having 10 A380s in total (of their massive 220 aircraft fleet). So depending on fleet utilisation they use around half their A380 fleet to operate Australian flights.

This should give you an idea of both how restrictive the Air Services Agreement is to Qatar, and how important a market Australia is for Qatar. Qatar Airways has an outstanding reputation in Australia for having cheap fares, excellent products and quick connections to Europe.

Qatar is able to operate additional flights to Australia, without breaching the Air Services Agreement in the following ways:

  • Non stop flights to the secondary airports like Adelaide, Darwin and Cairns are not limited, hence its A350 service to Adelaide each day.
  • Qatar can operate seven additional flights per week to the four major cities provided they continue on to a secondary airport, hence the 777-300ER flight to Sydney each day continuing on to Canberra. I am guessing the sole reason they operate a service to Canberra, is simply to pick up Sydney traffic. Qatar does not have rights to transport passengers domestically on the Sydney to Canberra legs only.

Although Brisbane would seem like a logical destination for any major international airline that already flies to cities like Adelaide and Canberra, Qatar cannot operate additional non stop services to Brisbane under the current Air Services Agreement (unless they continued on to a secondary destination like, say, Cairns) without reducing an existing service, so Qatar must believe Perth is a more lucrative market than Brisbane.

Should the Air Services Agreement be increased to 28 non stop flights per week (i.e. four flights per day) or more, I expect Qatar will announce non stop services to Brisbane immediately.

The Air Services Agreement between Australia and Qatar used to be only 14 flights per week (so two per day) and during this time Qatar chose Melbourne and Perth, rather than Melbourne and Sydney, Australia’s two busiest airports, which may have seemed like an odd choice.

I understand this was because it was optimal in terms of connections onto places like Europe for Qatar flights to leave Australia late at night (both the Melbourne and Perth flights depart each night at around 11pm) whereas Sydney has a strict airport curfew of 11pm, and flights could not depart this late and Qatar held out, hoping they could secure a later slot.

The Sydney curfew remains, and the Qatar A380 flight departs at 10pm each night, which only allows an hour each evening to account for any delays for the flight to depart before curfew. Any aircraft requesting to take off after curfew faces hefty financial penalties for doing so.

There is no curfew at Melbourne or Perth Airports.

Sydney Airport

Complaints from Qatar Airways

Both Emirates and Etihad have significantly greater rights to operate flights to Australia than Qatar does under the UAE – Australia Air Services Agreement. Compared with Qatar’s 21 flights per week, Emirates can operate a massive 105 flights per week (so five times that of Qatar) which is up to 15 flights per day, and Etihad can operate 56 flights per week.

Qantas only have a standard alliance relationship with Qatar, while they have a much closer relationship with Emirates that includes not just extensive codesharing, but also integrated network collaboration with coordinated pricing, sales and scheduling as well as a benefit-sharing model.

So I can understand that they have little interest in seeing the (restrictive) Air Services Agreement between Qatar and Australia relaxed while they have a huge financial incentive to ensure Emirates operates as many flights to Australia as possible. Qatar has an excellent product (especially compared with, say, Qantas’ A380) and is a major competitor to Qantas, despite both airlines being in the same alliance.

As Ben wrote about yesterday, global alliances are now far less important than individual financial arrangements between airlines.

I suspect Qatar is accusing Qantas of using their substantial government influence to lobby the Australian government not to change the Qatar – Australia Air Services Agreement.

Bottom line

Compared with Emirates and Etihad’s rights to operate significant flights to Australia I have always thought Qatar was very restricted in competing in such an important market. The fact they do not operate flights to a major city like Brisbane speaks volumes.

Qatar tends to make wild accusations about the industry and their competitors regularly, and I can’t say for sure what steps Qantas might have taken to keep the Qatar – Australia Air Services Agreement as is, but it is in Qantas’ best interest to limit Qatar flights into Australia.

Qantas is hardly the first airline to ‘encourage’ their government to limit foreign flights into their country to protect the home carrier. Just look at how few flights Emirates and Etihad are able to operate into both Germany and Canada.

Do you support Open Skies Agreements?

Comments

  1. Oneworld carrier’s don’t seem to work with each other
    Qantas partners with emirates to the detriment of Oneworld partner Qatar
    American condones competition from the ME
    If you join an alliance you are supposed to work with your partners.
    As it stands now, it’s a marriage and their is more than one mistress

  2. Good post. Why not just sign an open skies agreement? Then Qatar could fly where the market conditions warranted new flights. Is Australia that openly protectionist?

  3. @Christian-
    Think about it. Australia has no interest in having Qatar Airways serve the market without any caps. Qantas lobbies the Australian government hard core to prevent that from happening.

  4. @Icarus – alliances increasingly mean nothing nowadays. American and Qantas have absolutely no incentive to do much with Qatar.. They can do better on their own.

  5. “curfews suck”

    Except when the planes pass over your home and you want to sleep at night.

    Nice article, James!

  6. Perth is a very important market for Qatar as Perth is the Australian city with the most UK migrants living in it making the Perth-London route much more lucrative than say Brisbane-London.

  7. I am actually flying on Qatar’s A380 from Perth to Europe (Via Doha) at Christmas and am looking forward to it. At least Qatar commits unlike Etihad who cut flights to Perth

  8. Great article James. This is the kind of information that can be hard to find elsewhere and helps to make sense of something that puzzles a lot of people.

  9. Curios that Qatar would offer daily service to Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney instead of something like daily to Melbourne and Sydney, 3x weekly to Perth, and 4x weekly to Brisbane. That would satisfy the 21 direct services cap while being able to serve all 4 airports.

  10. @ Sam – I think a three weekly service would be tough to market in PER as it’s less than a flight every second day.
    I expect PER does well for QR so they would rather do that daily.

  11. Qatar may offer good deals leaving Aus. I looked at them recently for a fare from London – Sydney in business and found a much better deal on Singapore which tells you how expensive they have become ex-UK.

    Given the Qatar habit of flying anyway to secondary cities if they wanted BNE they would just tag on CNS for which there probably is a market if they are willing to build it.

  12. @ Jason – Oh, I get why Qantas wouldn’t want the competition. The question is how protectionist is the Australian government. Also, if Qantas is simply unable to compete, are they really up to snuff, or will they claim (justified or not) that there’s some giant structural advantage already in place for Qatar that Qantas just can’t match? If the Australian government really is that protectionist, the US government should absolutely deny the Qantas/American JV as being anti competitive.

  13. @Christian : the “protectionist” argument *might* work for Canada, but given how many flights both EK and EY flies to Australia, plus Trans-Tasman 5th freedom rights, that argument really falls flat if QR attempts to use it.

  14. Indeed Emirates, Qatar, & Etihad gave up on blaming Lufthansa for their limited access to Germany.
    The agreement with Australia is quite similar but the total number of flights is not. Qatar can operate to only 3 airports in Germany and chose Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin.

    Etihad & Emirates are also allowed to fly to only 3 german airports (both chose Munich, Frankfurt & Düsseldorf) without limits to their frequencies but are prohibited to fly to Berlin. Emirates got an exception to fly to a 4th destination Hamburg as they sponsor Hamburgs football team. Emirates has been dying to operate to Berlin.

  15. @Christian, Australia is as protectionist as it needs to be to maintain a good balance between healthy competition and people’s way of life. It sounds like you’re from the US, a country that allows anyone, and that’s why you have so many foreign workers doing jobs for $2/hr while the average American is living at the poverty level. Not to mention the steady stream of ships from Asia dumping millions of tons of cheap goods to all your Walmarts at the expense of family businesses. Funny though, that the US-based airlines want to maintain a monopoly (i.e. you can’t have it both ways).

  16. @James, great article and thank you for explaining it so well! I never thought why Qatar wasn’t flying to BNE and “only” had daily flights to SYD and MEL. I’ve flown Qatar from my hometown PER a couple of times and they are a great airline.

  17. “I am guessing the sole reason they operate a service to Canberra, is simply to pick up Sydney traffic. Qatar does not have rights to transport passengers domestically on the Sydney to Canberra legs only.”

    Generally how empty a the QR B77W on the SYD-CBR-SYD?

  18. @Dennis – Without going down the political rabbit hole, if the Australian government wants to be as protectionist as they like, I have no issue with that. Where I take issue is selective protectionism, whether in the US or Australia.
    As to the US airlines wanting to be monopolistic, you’re completely correct. Our government allowed far too much consolidation in the airline industry.

  19. Ironically, It is because of the restrictive air service agreements that Adelaide gets international flights. It is not like Qantas has any interest in flying internationally out of Adelaide.

  20. Great article James especially for those of us who live in Australia and live this blog. I am a regular traveler from BNE to MAN and have travelled just about every carrier. My most recent trip was with Qatar and indeed have to go via SYD. However the service was that good and transfer at Doha so much better than Abu Dhabi or Dubai I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again despite it adding one extra stop. Needless to say the very competitive price also seats a lot of people in Qatar’s direction too. I’d love to see them in Brisbane ASAP and know for a fact it would be a very popular choice.

  21. Qantas has no intention of flying to Qatar as there is very little business to this part of the world. QR should think themselves lucky to have 21 flights.

    Remember QF is not government subsidized like QR and if we are talking about restrictive air services agreement have a look at Canada.

    According to Joyce Qantas’s best performing route is PER/LHR and that is why they are looking at PER/CDG. Joyce has openly said that the UK route is now profitable something that they could not achieve over DXB.

    They have a new code share agreement with AF and today’s announcement, with KLM over Sin.

  22. I’m not sure why, even under the current agreement, they choose Adelaide over Brisbane? Or maybe there is already too much competition on that route?

    As a Europe-based One World Emerald I would love to see a much closer relationship between QR and QF over EK (of which I’m not a fan!). At least QR is – for now – part of a global alliance unlike EK. In any case I personally hope QR can expand its operations in Oz. Fingers crossed and thanks for the article James!

  23. Fascinating article James.

    One question that I have when reading this is how was the UAE able to get an Open Skies Agreement with Australia while Qatar was able to just obtain an Air Services Agreement with Australia? Is there more of a backstory to this? Was Qatar late to the party compared to the UAE so to speak?

  24. QF has plenty codeshare with skyteam carriers AF, Taiwan’s China Airlines, Shanghai-based China Eastern, with both Taiwan and China have separate open skies deal with Australia. QF and oneworld partner CX only recently announced limited codeshare deal. Alliances are seeing less influence indeed.

  25. Dennis – You’re talking utter rubbish. Australia is flooded with cheap Asian goods just as much as the US is. Protectionist air policies are also wholly unrelated to having a high minimum wage.

    Emily – You’d understand why if you read the article…

    HenryLAX – So if it’s not protectionism, why is Qatar forbidden from operating more flights?

  26. Great article, wondered why they did the Canberra route. Love QR and wish we they would open up miles redemptions again for Aus

  27. What’s ironic here, the Qatar and Qantas FF programs are the worst in the world, bloody rip-offs as we say in Australia. So who cares, I wouldn’t fly any of them and especially Qatar where I am Platinum but have not taken a single flight since thee great rip off on May 27 this year. Ripped the crap out of their Not Very Privileged Club program, stole from their members overnight without warning. So fuck ’em.

  28. Sydney – Canberra leg usually has as little as 30pax but believe it cheaper having the plane on the ground in Canberra than Syd due to parking fees and the local Govt offering support.

  29. James, slight correction required – the ASA only allows a further 7 weekly flights to SYD/MEL/BNE/PER which continues or goes via a secondary city, not unlimited frequencies as you allude in the article.

  30. @Dennis. You really ought to wake up and take a long hard look in Big W, K Mart, Target, Bunnings, Mitre 10, Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, 7-11, TRS, etc etc. Oh yeah, and also Myer and David Jones too! By the time you reply to this, you would have worn, eaten, slept in, used, driven, read, operated and generally consumed a whole dazzling combination of cheaply produced Chinese products yourself. Unless you’re a local from Nimbin. Just saying…….

  31. @ Emily – Adelaide is a secondary airport not covered by the ‘big four airports’ cap of 21 flights a week, while Brisbane is.
    Brisbane is a much bigger and busier airport than Adelaide.

  32. @ Micah – UAE doesn’t have an Open Skies Agreement with Australia, it has an Air Services Agreement like Qatar does, its just that the UAEs ASA is much, much more generous than Qatars, presumably partly because of Qantas’ lobbying.

  33. Could Qatar operate a flight between say Brisbane-Bali-Doha or
    Perth-Bali-Doha which is technically 5th freedom? And beable to get around the rule or does it have to be a domestic Australian location??

  34. Very informative and well written article. Thank you, James. I especially like how you present objective facts, and then are careful to indicate what is speculation on your part while providing the basis for your thoughts.

  35. Australia’s Air Service Agreements seem very inconsistent. Emirates and Etihad have large excess capacity, Singapore has unlimited rights, Cathay is at capacity but at a moderate 70 flights a week, while Qatar can only have 21 to the majors. Would it really have been in Qantas’ and the government’s interest to allow Emirates and Singapore to have so much capacity originally? It just seems inconsistent to me. You can look at them all here – https://infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/international/files/Growth_Potential_Foreign_Airlines-Northern_Winter_2017-18.pdf

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