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ULR flight

May 2, 2017

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This Qantas 747 did London-Sydney non-stop in 1989

While there are obvious benefits (but maybe not in economy) in the forthcoming Qantas non-stop 787 flights between Perth and London for travellers starting out in Perth, the attractions for those leaving from Melbourne or Sydney are less clear.

Most flyer departing Australia for London, or for gateways in Europe, start their trips from the east coast cities, and for them the trip will continue to be one-stop, whether they fly via Perth, or the likes of Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha.

And they will overwhelmingly do so in the superior comfort standards of Airbus A380s, including flying Qantas on what will be its only A380 all-the-way flight from Sydney, once Melbourne loses its Qantas A380 service on the route when the 787s start flying a domestic sector from Tullamarine airport to Perth for the onward London flight from next March.

Some of the disadvantages in this situation for those thinking of flying Qantas rather than Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways from Melbourne, can be found between the lines of this report in Australian Business Traveller.

All but Etihad among those Qantas competitors will be offering A380s all the way to London from Melbourne when Qantas reduces the seats it has on offer in Melbourne for a one-stop flight to Heathrow airport from its A380 via Dubai to the much smaller 787 via Perth.

So the net gain for Melbournians as well as those starting from points that are elsewhere east of Perth on the 787 service is questionable, no matter how excellent the product initiatives Qantas is bringing to the new but for most passengers tighter Dreamliner.

In fact Qantas has indicated that it will completely refurbish its A380s from nose to tail in order to compete with the refurbished and brand new A380 Singapore Airlines inaugurates from Sydney later this year and well before the Perth-London non-stop begins.

The remaking of the Qantas A380 fleet is said by some sources to liberate very useful increases in payload through the use of space saving spiral or ‘enhanced’ staircases forward and aft and much lighter seating fixtures.  Whatever the accuracy of such information from within Qantas, there is every reason to believe its A380s will emerge from refurbishment as convincing answers to the initiatives already being built into new SingaporeAir A380s and promised for the Emirates fleet.

The currently configured Qantas A380s lag the amenity levels seen in the Etihad A380s (soon to be twice daily from Sydney and with around four times the total capacity of a single London via Perth 787) or those that fly at times on Australian routes for Qatar Airways, or indeed the Emirates A380s on which Qantas places its code shares so that its customers can get the bigger-than-Dreamliner economy seats yet earn Qantas points.

There are however major potential advantages for the small number of passengers Qantas can accommodate on its 787s through Perth in that Dubai airport is so overcrowded people have to queue for the toilets, even at times in some of the business class lounges as well as in the main terminals, and Abu Dhabi’s all new and soon to open Midfield Terminal is much needed given the pressure on existing facilities caused by its success in growing that alternative UAE hub.

Singapore is in the box seat in this situation. Its Changi airport hub may not always prove perfect for purpose, but its fair to say it enjoys a huge reputational and in this writer’s opinion, real advantage over the other airports at which all flyers from Australia to London or European cities will stop until a commercially viable true non-stop airliner from the east coast of this country to the UK and EU becomes available. Maybe even before 2025.

Hidden behind all the hype about non-stop Perth 787s to London, and if Qantas has its way, to Paris, Frankfurt and maybe even Berlin (if it ever manages to complete its new airport), there is a story about ‘Little Qantas’. Qantas is making itself a notably smaller player in terms of its own fleet to the UK.

It holds or held four invaluable slots a day at London Heathrow airport, but will after the Melbourne A380 daily ends, only fly an A380 on one of them, and a much smaller 787 on another. Most Australians who want to earn Qantas points on a flight to Europe or the UK will do so on Emirates code shares, and in its A380s or 777s (and from the early 2020s in 777-Xs.)

Unfortunately for Qantas, the 787 is too small an aircraft for purpose on major Australia-Europe routes. What made sense in December 2005 when it was ordered doesn’t make sense today when 777s (and 777-Xs) and A350s offer better operational outcomes on city pairs that haven’t grown enough to support A380 sized loads per available slot.

While Qantas has become a strong and profitable airline group, it hasn’t tried to keep pace with demand, much of which shows very clear signs of being inbound, from markets where its brand value and recognition is low.

Non-stop flights between Perth and the UK and Europe will not on their own address these structural challenges nor radically improve the one-stop on the way flying experience of travellers in the rest of Australia, and it could be the Singapore one-stop offers that prove the prime challenge to Qantas services.

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