Qantas to Launch 7 New Regional Routes in Early 2021

Qantas to Launch 7 New Regional Routes in Early 2021Qantas will launch flights on seven new regional routes in early 2021, including to two new destinations, drawing the ire of rival Rex.

Just as Qantas’ inaugural Sydney-Merimbula flight departed this week, Qantas announced a raft of new regional routes from Melbourne. Qantas will also start flights from Sydney to Griffith, and Adelaide to Mt Gambier. The new flights will be operated by regional subsidiary QantasLink.

Here’s a full list of the new QantasLink routes to launch in early 2021:

QantasLink routes launching 1 February 2021

  • Sydney-Griffith (daily Dash 8 Q300 service)
  • Melbourne-Newcastle (12x weekly Boeing 717 service)
  • Melbourne-Merimbula (4x weekly Dash 8 Q300 service)

QantasLink routes launching 28 March 2021

  • Melbourne-Mount Gambier (5x weekly Dash 8 Q300 service)
  • Adelaide-Mount Gambier (5x weekly Dash 8 Q300 service)
  • Melbourne-Wagga Wagga (x weekly Dash 8 Q300 service)
  • Melbourne-Albury (4x weekly Dash 8 Q300 service)

Other service increases

From 1 February 2021, Qantas will also increase the frequency on its new Sydney-Orange route from 3x weekly to daily. In addition, Melbourne-Launceston flights will be upgraded from Dash 8 aircraft to Boeing 717s. And some routes recently launched as seasonal routes will be upgraded to year-round service, including Perth-Hobart, Canberra-Hobart, Sydney-Merimbula and Brisbane-Port Macquarie.

Qantas Boeing 717s for Newcastle

Qantas has traditionally served Newcastle only with Dash 8 Q400 flights to and from Brisbane, leaving Jetstar to provide the bulk of the Qantas Group’s service at that airport. But Qantas will soon fly Boeing 717s between Melbourne and Newcastle most mornings and evenings, providing a premium alternative to Jetstar.

A QantasLink Boeing 717 at Canberra Airport
Qantas will begin flying Boeing 717s from Melbourne to Newcastle

Virgin Australia also flies the Melbourne-Newcastle route, but with no more than one flight per day which operates during the middle of the day at a time unsuitable for business travellers.

A few weeks ago, Qantas also upgraded some of its Brisbane-Newcastle services to larger Boeing 717s. As a result, Qantas is also now selling Business class seats on its Brisbane-Newcastle services.

QantasLink Boeing 717-200 Business Class
QantasLink passengers can now book Business class on Newcastle-Brisbane flights

But Qantas is not currently selling any Business class seats on its new Melbourne-Newcastle services. The current seat maps for these flights indicate that Qantas plans to use Boeing 717s in an Economy-only configuration on this route.

Rex complains to the ACCC again

As has become customary whenever Qantas launches flights on a Rex monopoly route, Rex has filed a new complaint with the ACCC. Rex, which is about to launch 737 flights on Qantas and Virgin’s lucrative “golden triangle” routes, complains that Qantas is trying to force it out of its profitable regional routes.

“Rex has grave concerns that Qantas is embarking on an opportunistic strategy of flooding the regional airline market with additional excess capacity to eliminate weaker regional competitors, which will have devastating long term impacts on regional aviation. History has shown that once regional airlines are squeezed out, the loss is permanent and regional and rural communities suffer the consequences,” a statement from the regional airline said.

Of the seven new routes announced by Qantas this week, six are currently served by Rex.

Extraordinarily, Rex has even called for the federal government to cease all funding for Qantas over this issue.

“Qantas is choosing to incur huge losses on these routes, using Commonwealth government subsidies to finance a strategy that will destroy incumbent regional operators,” Rex said.

Rex is accusing Qantas of anti-competitive behaviour
Rex is again accusing Qantas of anti-competitive behaviour

In September, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce attacked Rex for accepting $60 million in government handouts, which it claimed it needed urgently to avoid running out of cash within weeks, before then announcing plans to launch new domestic jet services less than two months later.

Rex maintained that it is only using new funding from external parties to finance the launch of its jet operations, calling Qantas management “mischievous” for suggesting otherwise and accusing Qantas of hypocrisy.

Pulling out the “national carrier” card yet again, Qantas says its new flights will provide much-needed competition and help the regions recover from COVID-19.

“As the national carrier, we have an important role to play in driving tourism and supporting the industry’s recovery,” QantasLink CEO John Gissing said.

“We know there is significant pent up demand for travel. These new flights will help more Australians explore some of the incredible places in their own backyard and drive tourism, which is so vital to the local economies of regional areas.

“We’re also pleased to be able to offer locals more choice and competitive fares on these routes, most of which have been monopolies for years.”

But Rex argues that many of these regional routes are too marginal for two airlines to successfully compete in the long term. There is some merit to this argument, as it’s exactly why some intrastate regional routes are regulated to give one airline a guaranteed monopoly. In NSW there are currently two licenced routes; Sydney-Lord Howe Island and Sydney-Moree.

As none of the new Qantas routes require a licence to operate, Qantas is free to launch flights in competition with Rex if it chooses to do so. However, the move could be deemed anti-competitive if it was not a commercially-driven decision by Qantas, but rather intentionally designed to hurt Rex and force them off their routes. The ACCC, which has been tasked with scrutinising domestic airline competition through the COVID-19 period, may have to make a judgement on this at some point.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qantas announce more regional growth

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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.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]