Qatar Airways A350
Qatar Airways is one of the only airlines which launched new flights to Australia during COVID-19. Photo: Saif Zaman on Pexels.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has caused enormous disruption to the aviation industry. Countless international routes in and out of Australia have been grounded, and many airlines have stopped flying to Australia altogether for the time being due to the highly restrictive inbound passenger caps. This now includes American Airlines, which just announced it is suspending all flights to Sydney from the end of next month.

But the pandemic has also created new opportunities for a small number of airlines. Since international borders closed in March 2020, five new international routes have been launched to Australia.

Qatar Airways commenced Brisbane-Doha flights

Just as most other airlines were cancelling services to Australia in April 2020, Qatar Airways added a new destination with the launch of flights from Doha to Brisbane. This route is still running today, with Qatar’s services continuing from Brisbane to Auckland. However, Qatar Airways does not currently have local traffic rights between Brisbane and Auckland, so the passengers flying to Auckland are all continuing from Doha.

At the same time as Qatar Airways launched Brisbane-Doha flights, it also dropped flights from Canberra and Adelaide to Doha. Adelaide service was later reinstated.

In truth, Qatar Airways would have liked to fly to Brisbane years ago. But under the current Air Services Agreement between Australia and Qatar, Qatari airlines are only allowed to operate 21 weekly return flights to Australia’s four largest airports – Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Before COVID-19, Qatar Airways used its allocation to fly daily to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, and supplemented these services with Adelaide and Canberra flights. There is no limit to the number of flights Qatar Airways can operate to secondary airports in Australia.

After COVID-19 hit, Qatar Airways appears to have reduced the frequency of its Doha-Perth route to 4x weekly, allowing it to operate 3x weekly Brisbane flights.

Qatar Airways has since been vocally lobbying the Australian government to increase its weekly allocation of flights going forward so that it can serve Brisbane and increase flights to other cities like Sydney. The airline even continued to operate to Australia at a loss in the hope it may woo the Australian government. The bilateral treaty is now “undergoing treaty process”, so watch this space.

Sri Lankan Airlines added Sydney-Colombo flights

Sri Lankan Airlines, which already flew from Melbourne to Colombo, has added Sydney-Colombo flights to its schedule during COVID-19. The new Sydney-Colombo route is served by an Airbus A330-300 and is currently running around once per week.

Three new trans-Tasman routes

Since the travel bubble launched between Australia and New Zealand, three new trans-Tasman routes have also been added.

Air New Zealand’s Hobart-Auckland route has proven quite popular. But Qantas’ Gold Coast-Auckland and Cairns-Auckland routes have performed poorly, with many services being cancelled due to low demand.

Qantas had hoped that New Zealanders would flock to Queensland during the winter. But the risk of getting stuck across the Tasman (as has already happened to many New Zealanders) and an expensive new COVID-19 testing requirement for returning to New Zealand have left many Kiwis reluctant to travel to Australia. And with New Zealand having also launched travel bubbles with Niue and Cook Islands, Queensland is no longer the only warm destination available to New Zealanders!

Qantas repatriation flights

While Qantas has not operated regular international passenger flights since March 2020 (except to New Zealand), it has been operating lots of charter and repatriation flights on behalf of the Australian government.  This has seen Qantas 787s flying to Darwin from many parts of the globe including London, Frankfurt, Delhi, Johannesburg and Istanbul.

Emirates’ new Dubai-Kuala Lumpur-Auckland service

New Zealand also has a new international service, with Emirates now flying from Dubai to Auckland via Kuala Lumpur.

A few years ago, Emirates flew from Dubai to Auckland with daily A380 services via Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These were later replaced with non-stop Dubai-Auckland and one-stop Dubai-Denpasar-Auckland flights, but both of those routes have also now been dropped.

New Australian domestic routes

While domestic border restrictions have also caused havoc, changes in domestic travel demand patterns have also created new opportunities for Australia’s domestic airlines. This is particularly so for intrastate routes and direct services between secondary cities which bypass Sydney & Melbourne.

Qantas and Jetstar have launched well over 30 new domestic routes since the start of COVID-19. Rex has launched several new routes as well. Some of these new domestic routes have been quite unusual, like Canberra-Port Macquarie and Dubbo-Ballina on FlyPelican, or Canberra-Cairns on Qantas.

In fact, there are now so many new domestic routes providing direct connections between Australia’s major cities, that Hobart and Darwin are now the only capital cities in Australia without a direct air service between them.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

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