Utilizing a Loophole Qatar Airways’ Sparse Flights Raise Questions

Qatar Airways’ operational practices have come under scrutiny for what appear to be near-empty flights dubbed as “ghost flights” on the route between Melbourne and Adelaide. It’s alleged that these flights, seemingly aimed at evading constraints on landing at major airports, serve a strategic purpose for the airline.

The prominent Qatari carrier, authorized to conduct 28 weekly flights across Australia’s major airports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, also offers a daily flight connecting Doha and Adelaide through Melbourne. Unlike major airports, there is no explicit limitation on flight frequencies to minor airports.

Reported by Guardian Australia, the inbound flight QR988, operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, experiences a six-hour layover in Melbourne from 11:30 am to 5:35 am due to the curfew at Adelaide Airport. Interestingly, a significant portion of passengers disembark in Melbourne, resulting in merely a handful of travelers continuing on the Melbourne-Adelaide leg. Notably, Qatar Airways is prohibited from selling domestic tickets specifically for the Melbourne-Adelaide route. Simultaneously, the airline offers a more popular direct route connecting Adelaide and Doha, further linking to Auckland.

According to an undisclosed industry insider cited by The Guardian, the primary motive behind these “ghost flights” is not to bolster services to Adelaide but to bolster its presence in Melbourne.

“In the initial weeks, they didn’t even make Adelaide tickets available. Their actions seemed to be a disregard for industry norms and regulations,” the source remarked.

Responding to the issue, a spokesperson for Transport and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King emphasized that expanding Qatar Airways’ air rights and granting them leeway to increase direct services to major airports isn’t aligned with the national interest.

“Approvals for Qatar Airways’ Doha-Melbourne-Adelaide service were granted within the context of the existing bilateral air services agreement between the two countries,” the spokesperson stated. It was added that a condition was imposed on these flights that they must be open for passenger and cargo bookings to and from Adelaide, a condition purportedly being met by the airline as confirmed previously by the department.

Minister King addressed the matter during Question Time, highlighting that multiple factors contributed to the government’s stance against extending Qatar’s air rights. She emphasized the government’s commitment to agreements that uphold the national interest in all its complexities, including safeguarding the aviation sector’s revival and the employment of Australian workers.