A test fleet A350 carrying the Qatar livery: Airbus photo

Apartments in Etihad A380s for those who could probably afford to buy one! Qatar Airways’ early introduction of A350s to Perth! Whatever will Emirates do?

Whatever it decides to do, the new jet and new cabin announcements by Etihad (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar (Doha)  are part of the strategies of the two newer Middle East global carriers laying siege to the Dubai based Emirates global airline model by also exploiting their common advantages of geography, ambition and ship loads of money.

And Australia will be an early theatre for the action, even though Emirates and Etihad seem to have Qantas and Virgin Australia sewn up respectively, by various means and ends.

First out of the blocks to show off its innovations at this week’s Arabian Travel Market in Abu Dhabi was Etihad with the lavish amenities it is putting in the A380s it will fly from Sydney from next July, with Melbourne to follow, as well as significant changes to its business class product and, to the relief in due course of the mass market, the retention of spacious economy class seating in the biggest of Airbuses.

Next came Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker telling Australian Business Traveller that Perth will get services by its A350-900s from early next year. While you are at AusBT, check out its collection of photos of the interior of the forthcoming Etihad A380s and 787s, which presumably will port into its A350s too.

Qatar’s will be the first A350 service to Australia, although by 2020, the new Airbus medium sized wide body will have been introduced by Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and AirAsiaX, and quite possibly on some secondary city routes, by Etihad and Emirates.

While it’s not known what the Qatar carrier’s policy on seating configurations on the A350 is, if it remains at the nine across format usually quoted by Airbus, it will be roomier in economy class than the slightly narrower Dreamliners, or if it decides on a 10 across arrangement, as promised by AirAsiaX, then every bit as uncomfortable as the Boeings.

Maybe Emirates will complete a trifecta of Gulf region carrier extravaganzas in the next day or so. It is unlikely to ignore the provocations from its smaller but rapidly growing rivals, and it has much to lose in the Australian market given the success of its operations to date.

However it may take time to show its intentions. The way things are going Emirates could have a combined 168 A380 arrivals and departures from Australian airports each week by early in the 2020s simply be replacing those services it now flies with 777s with the bigger Airbus.

The point about the ME carriers is that they connect Australia to dozens of countries that never figured in the Qantas view of the world, and as those economies grow and we trade with them, the proportion of non Australian visitors they carry between this country and the world will inevitably increase.

It’s business that an Australian flag carrier might never have understood, or carried. This contest between ME carriers may prove fiercer than the debate that the success of foreign carriers currently causes in this country, the more so if Qantas destroys itself.  The debate will likely rage on, but it will, in coming years, also be one that will have changed from ‘saving’ Australian flag carriers, to getting the best economic results.

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