Jul 23, 2017

Canberra contest heats up as Qatar confirms and Singapore adjusts flights

The competitive tensions between the flag carriers, and hub airports, of Qatar and Singapore have come to Canberra, Australia

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The A350 looks like being the chosen weapon for carriers seeking to carve up new routes to Australia

It’s a fair bet that within a year it will be dueling Airbus A350s for Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines at Canberra Airport given the latest moves by each carrier in bringing international flights to Australia’s capital.

Singapore Airlines last week announced a tightening of the scheduling for its  777-200s between Canberra-Singapore and Canberra-Wellington, the latter linking the AU and NZ capitals with a level of comfort and amenity those stuffed into other trans Tasman flights using 737s and A320s might well envy.

The changes due later this year will make it easier to use those flights to make a wider range of practicable connections at Singapore’s Changi airport. It was also clear from the guidance that Singapore Airline gave for the Canberra routes, which started almost a year ago, that total demand for seats is healthy, although the Wellington sector remains a bit underdone.

Qatar Airways confirmed its long standing interest in Canberra flights by putting on sale daily 777-300ER services to and from its Doha hub but via Sydney from next February.

The Sydney-Canberra tag flights reflect caution about the level of demand from Canberra as well as the current limitations on the number of flights Qatar Airways can make to Australia cities. If Canberra cooks for Qatar Airways and its lobbying for more Australian access also succeeds, it will seek changes to make its Doha flights non-stops in addition to current traffic rights.

The 777-300ER services will also become a second daily flight for the reportedly strong Sydney-Doha-and-beyond market, with the main service being on a QR A380. (Memo Qatar Airways, be brave, fly the big Airbus on the Canberra route once or twice a week, you’ll fill every seat. Promise!)

It is reasonable to predict that Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways will each upgrade their Canberra airliners to Airbus A350s by the end of next year. Not only are their A350s the right size for the route, but the right size for their customers, compared to the crammed-until-the-passengers-cry treatment given economy class flyers on long range 787 services, whether full service or low fare in nature, on Australian and New Zealand routes.

SingaporeAir and Qatar Airways overlap when it comes to offering connections to Canberrans flying to  Europe, the UK, and of course the Middle East and Africa. The Singaporeans also have a huge secondary market for connections to China and much of eastern Asia.  If Canberra gets more hotel competition to match contests for international flights through its airport it will also get the benefit of the strong and proven ability of these two airlines to bring new sources of inbound tourism to Australia.

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25 thoughts on “Canberra contest heats up as Qatar confirms and Singapore adjusts flights

  1. Jacob HSR


    Are non-Aussie, non-Kiwi crew allowed to fly between those cities?

    1. patrick kilby

      The QATAR flight has the added advantage of avoiding a bus and extra security check in Sydney and I suspect it is much cheaper to park a plane in Canberra for 5 is 6 hours. Given how quite the Virgin end of the terminal is in Canberra they won’t even need to tow it away. It may also be a way of wheedling an extra slot at Sydney as Canberra may not count in flight limitations.

    2. Dan Dair

      I would have thought 5th ? freedom rights would apply to WLG-CBR.

      I’m a little more concerned about the legality of a wholly internal / domestic flight between CBR & SYD.? With no international connection, I’m not sure international ‘freedoms’ conventions apply.?
      Maybe Qatar have some kind of ‘derogation’ because they’re flying into/out-of Canberra, which is actively what the local authority (& by implication, the national government) actually want to promote.?
      (or I might have missed something significant & it’s all perfectly legitimate.???)

      1. Cantbeeffed

        Provided the pax are internationally ex or en route, it’s not a domestic leg.

      2. Jacob HSR

        Aus does not allow 8th freedom.

        Maybe QR will do what Air India did till 2 years ago: Fly SYD – MEL – DEL. Picked up passengers in SYD, and then some more in MEL, and then onto DEL they go.

        QR will fly CBR – SYD – DOH and DOH – SYD – CBR on the way back.

  2. Dan Dair

    I wonder how many passengers out of Canberra are really more Southern-Sydneysiders, who choose the schlep to Canberra over the hassles at KSA.?

    1. Ben Sandilands

      I should have made it clear the only passengers between Canberra-Sydney on the QR flights will be those coming to or from Doha. I don’t believe many customers for Canberra Airport come from the Sydney sprawl, as it is just too hard to get there, however the southern highlands towns are just that much closer to it, and the drive time to Sydney or Canberra is often the same, and much less hassle prone going to Canberra. The only reason so many people drive between the two cities each day is that total trip times if you are say, leaving your home for a part of Sydney well away from the CBD or airport will always be faster than navigating two airports, neither of which are near your start or finish points.

  3. Creeper

    I’m not seeing this as being about Canberra.
    It’s all about Sydney. This is purely a move to get extra Sydney flights (in which they are currently capped)

    They can’t fly anymore to Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne/Perth. They have reached the cap with no signs of changes to the Qatar Bilaterals.

    The incentives from Canberra will potentially subsidise the losses on the Canberra run.

    Is this even legal?

    1. Creeper

      Legal in terms of selling flights SYD-DOH-SYD with so connection to Canberra?

  4. Deano DD

    Next Qatar route announcement will be DOH-SYD-NTL followed by DOH-MLB-AVV

    1. Creeper

      They want to fly to Brisbane (but currently cant) so why not fly to ‘Cairns’ with a stopover in Brisbane.

  5. patrick kilby

    I suspect QF will regime its Perth flight to connect better with the London flight, as they will bleed passengers to QATAR, given the convenience. The return Perth Canberra flight has a good connection with the London flight but the outward bound does not.

  6. Zarathrusta

    I agree the A350 would be ideal. I’m quite unhappy that Qatar decided to replace an A380 leg on a future trip with a 777 thunderbus. In the back end of both an 777 and an A350 recently, the 777 shook on take off and generally sounded like you were an extra on Eraserhead whereas on the A350 was very smooth on takeoff and I was briefly kept awake by a couple speaking quietly 8 rows ahead in the left column. In both cases I was right aisle in middle column.

  7. putka

    Hi Ben,
    I’ve searched around without success as to the SQ schedule tightening for the CBR services and would love it if you have a link or more details.

    1. Ben Sandilands


      Here is the media statement.
      20 July 2017


      Singapore Airlines today announced flights SQ291/292 will be retimed from 28 October 2017 following a review of the ‘Capital Express’ service.

      The new schedule will see SQ291 depart 55 minutes later from Singapore, resulting in a later arrival time in to Canberra and later departure time for the Canberra-Wellington flight.

      There will also be a 1 hour and 5 minute change to the departure time for SQ292 from Wellington resulting in an earlier arrival into Canberra and subsequently an earlier arrival into Singapore.

      New schedule from 28 October 2017:

      Flight No
      Current Schedule
      New Schedule
      Dep 23:00 – Arr 09:45+1
      Dep 23:55 – Arr 10:40+1
      Dep 11:00 – Arr 16:15
      Dep 11:55 – Arr 17:10
      Dep 21:20 – Arr 23:10
      Dep 20:15 – Arr 22:05
      Dep 00:35+1 – Arr 05:40
      Dep 23:30 – Arr 04:35+1
      *All times above are shown as Local Time.

      Singapore Airlines Regional Vice President South West Pacific, Mr Tan Tiow Kor, said the timing changes were being made to improve the operational efficiency of the service.

      “While the loads we have achieved for the flights in the first 10 months have met our expectations, we believe there are some areas where we can improve efficiency,” Mr Tan said.

      “Re-timing the flights will assist in this goal, while also providing additional connections from the Singapore Airlines global network to SQ291.

      “The later departure from Singapore will allow customers travelling from Bali, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Phuket, and Shanghai to connect to the Singapore-Canberra-Wellington flight.

      “These new connections provide a great opportunity to increase the number of inbound visitors to Canberra.

      “While the shorter turnaround in Wellington will further assist in improving efficiency of the service.”

      Singapore Airlines will work with customers whose domestic connections in Australia are affected by the re-timing.

      The changes come as a result of a review that was undertaken following the first six months of operations.

      “It is normal practice to undertake a comprehensive review of any new route we launch,” Mr Tan said.

      “We will continue working closely with our key stakeholders to develop and grow the route through promotion of the service and Wellington as a destination.

      “As the first airline to operate the Singapore-Canberra-Wellington route there have been a number of learnings that we have taken out of the first 10 months of operation.

      “These learnings were fed into the review and have resulted in our decision to re-time the flights.

      “We will continue to monitor the performance of the operation and if required make further adjustments where necessary.”

  8. reeves35

    Creeper is so correct. This has nothing to do with CBR and everything to do with gaming the system to get an extra SYD service. That CBR Airport and ACT Government are prepared to bankroll the CBR tag is just icing on the cake.

    There is probably something wrong with the system that allows QR to do this and to be a rentseeker on taxpayers along the way is scandalous. Realistically, very few people will fly with CBR as their sole destination and the number who do would probably wouldn’t even fill the first class cabin on a 777.

    I’m yet to be convinced at all by the CBR int’l services and feel that if the subsidy tap gets turned off, SQ will cancel its route. QR would probably continue as long as it enables an extra SYD service unless Albury or Tamworth step in with their own subsidy in which case, the highest subsidy wins!!!

    1. patrick kilby

      Reeves35, the Canberra catchment of half a million will sort out the economics. It will take passengers off QF, so I can see upwards of 100 joining each day and if these are premium and averse to a bus shuttle in Sydney then all the better. The cost savings in parking a plane for 5-6 hours as well can’t be sneezed at. Canberra ground costs are lower anyway.

    2. Jacob HSR

      Nothing is more scandalous than selling off SYD airport and banning a competing airport from being built within a 100 km radius!

      Heathrow airport has been sold off to foreign governments! What a sick joke. All the road and rail congestion caused by Heathrow is paid for by government but the profits made by Heathrow go into private foreign-government pockets.

    3. Nick

      There’s no subsidy mate and QR is quite capable of bankrolling themselves.

  9. Letterboxfrog

    With the Canberra Train Station in Kingston soon to close and be built at the current Bunnings site on Newcastle St (Bunnings is moving out to Majura Park at the Airport where Masters was), I am disappointed the ACT Govt and Canberra Airport couldn’t come to a deal to re-route the railway to the airport. This might increase passenger traffic on the railway, and maybe encourage NSW to improve the railway as more than just a forgotten extension beyond the Woodlawn Waste Transfer facility at Tarago. This would be an excellent prelude to a VFT, and certainly attract Southern Highlands traffic, and maybe even encourage commuters to leave their cars in Bungendore if there were appropriate services.

  10. Ken Borough

    I will believe this when it happens!

    The only other thing I can say is what an incredible waste of a very precious pair of slots at Sydney for the extension of an International flight to/from Canberra?

    1. Nick

      Only a waste of slots if the plane takes off from Canberra full.
      The punters getting on in Sydney won’t give a toot where the plane has come from.
      The punters travelling from Canberra – which draws on a large catchment – won’t have to go through the tiresome and tedious Sydney domestic/international goat-herding transfer – they’d be at least 2 hours better off and less stressed.
      Less time on the ground in SYD means less $ out of QR’s pocket.

      1. Ken Borough

        Slots are not about the punters: most wouldn’t have a clue. To use a pair of slots for a Canberra extension is wasteful, particularly when slots for long haul flights are difficult to secure. If QR were really efficient, they’d turn their aircraft around in Sydney within 2 hours of its arrival for return to Doha. Does anyone here really know how much the parking costs in Sydney? It doesn’t seem to worry All Nippon whose B787 is parked in Sydney from early morning to late at night! BA park a B777 from the 0500 hour till mid -afternoon. I don’t think parking is the issue. Emirates operated on the Tasman to increase fleet utilisation and assumed OOPs only as standing charges would have been incurred whether or not the aircraft flew. Their ‘break even’ was therefore quite low. It would be very interesting to see the true costs of operating the Canberra extension versus the costs of parking at Sydney.

  11. Rufus

    I’m a big fan of the SQ service – I’m about to use it for the second time to fly Europe-Canberra.

    Sadly the re-timing does nothing to help European connections – I think only LHR-CBR offers a sub-30 hour flight in both directions. Still, I prefer to kill time in Singapore than get the bus and deal with the hassle of Sydney.

  12. Jacob HSR

    VN does something very similar:

    MEL to SGN to HAN to LHR.

    Makes very little sense.

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