Qantas takes its biggest hop on the Kangaroo route between Australia and UK

Around two million passengers a year fly between Australia and the UK (O&D demand for 12 months to October 2016) and the famous Kangaroo Route has been one of the most competitive air corridors in aviation history with tens of airlines competing for traffic via various points across Asia and more recently the Middle East.

It has been speculated for many years, but now Qantas has confirmed it will indeed introduce the first non-stop scheduled service between Perth and London with its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. The shortest and fastest ever journey on the famous Kangaroo Route in over 70 years of flights between Australia and Europe, the new connection will also be the first direct link out of Western Australia into Europe.

The Perth – London flight at 14,498 kilometres will not hold the title of being the world’s longest when it is launched in March 2018, a position currently held by Air India after it switched its Delhi – San Francisco route to operate across the Pacific rather than the Atlantic to increase the flight distance to 15,127km, but it is certainly one of the most significant in terms of global aviation connectivity.

Around two million passengers a year fly between Australia and the UK (O&D demand for 12 months to October 2016) and the famous Kangaroo Route has been one of the most competitive air corridors in aviation history with tens of airlines competing for traffic via various points across Asia and more recently the Middle East.

Our analysis of O&D demand data from the AirVision Market Intelligence tool from Sabre Airline Solutions shows that over 40 per cent of these passengers are connecting with Qantas and Emirates Airline via Dubai International Airport (1,025 PPDEW) with notable flows also via Singapore (440 PPDEW) Abu Dhabi (375 PPDEW), Doha (230 PPDEW) Hong Kong (220 PPDEW) and Kuala Lumpur (110 PPDEW).

Qantas had historically served the market via the Asian hub of Changi Airport in Singapore, but in April 2013 commenced a ten-year major partnership with Emirates Airline to route its flights from Melbourne and Sydney to London Heathrow via Dubai International Airport. This ended a 17-year long joint-venture agreement with British Airways in this market.

The decision to launch this new non-stop 17 hour sector from Perth to London represents the next stage in the evolution of the Kangaroo Route and is only possible through the arrival of modern generation airliners such as the 787-9.

“This is a game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft. Australians have never had a direct link to Europe before, so the opportunities this opens up are huge,” said Alan Joyce, chief executive officer, Qantas Group.

“It’s great news for travellers because it will make it easier to get to London. It’s great news for Western Australia because it will bring jobs and tourism. And it’s great news for the nation, because it will bring us closer to one of our biggest trade partners and sources of visitors,” he added.

“When Qantas created the Kangaroo Route to London in 1947, it took four days and nine stops. Now it will take just 17 hours from Perth non-stop.”

Alan Joyce
Chief Executive Officer, Qantas Group

Not only will the route open new trade opportunities from Western Australia, a market previously used as a stop-over on flights to London between the 1940s and 1960s it will also generate some passenger flows currently originating or terminating in Eastern regions of Australia.

“A direct flight makes travelling to Australia a much more attractive proposition to millions of people. We expect many travellers from Europe will start their time in Australia with a visit to Perth before going on to see other parts of the country,” said Joyce.

“Our modelling shows that people from the East Coast as well as South Australia would fly domestically to Perth to connect to our non-stop London service. Some will take the opportunity to break their journey, whether it’s for business meetings in Perth, to holiday or to visit family,” he added.

The initial suggestions are that Qantas will offer 14 weekly flights on the Perth – London route, albeit this is thought to relate to rotations and will simply mean a daily flight. It has been suggested that the expected flows from eastern Australia could lead to Qantas cutting its existing capacity out of the area and perhaps start and end the Perth service in Melbourne with same aircraft services to and from London. This could ultimately lead to the cancellation of its current Melbourne – Dubai – London route flown by the Airbus A380, suggests Australian Business Traveller.

The publication cites a Qantas source as suggesting operational concerns that the debut of the non-stop 787-9 service between Perth and London could over-saturate the Kangaroo Route with more seats than passengers. The airline’s network analysts said the local market may not be able to sustain both of the daily A380s from Sydney and Melbourne plus the new Boeing 787 from Perth, which is expected to carry a significant number of Qantas travellers jetting in from Australia’s eastern capitals to make the direct Dreamliner flight.

If this does occur than it is likely that Emirates Airline will increase its own capacity into the Melbourne market.  Interestingly, just days after the Qantas announcement about the Perth - London route, Qatar Airways has revealed it is to boost capacity on its own Doha - Melbourne service from the end of June 2017 by substituting the 777-300ER used on its daily flight with a larger A380.  

These flows from eastern Australia will be supported through Qantas operating both its domestic and international schedules at Perth Airport through its existing domestic terminals (T3/4), which will be upgraded to accommodate international flights. The airline’s current international services from Perth (to Singapore and to Auckland) will also move to this terminal, helping to simplify the journey for thousands of people every year. Qantas will then move its operations to an expanded Terminal 1 at Perth Airport by the end of 2025, pending a commercial agreement.

“We’ll be looking at the timing of our domestic flights through Perth to offer the best connections we can to our international flights, particularly given they will all be under the one roof,” explained Joyce.

“This is a game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft. Australians have never had a direct link to Europe before, so the opportunities this opens up are huge.”

Alan Joyce
Chief Executive Officer, Qantas Group

Qantas has designed its 787-9 configuration with long-range missions in mind. The aircraft will seat 236 passengers in a three-class arrangement with 42 business class seats: an upgraded version of the existing Qantas’ A330 Business Suite; 28 premium economy seats, split across four rows in a 2-3-2 layout; and 166 seats in economy, in a 3-3-3 arrangement with an extra inch of legroom compared to Qantas' A380s.

“When we designed the interior of our 787s, we wanted to make sure passengers would be comfortable on the extended missions the aircraft was capable of,” said Joyce. “That’s why we have features in our Economy seats that other airlines reserve for Premium Economy. Our Business Suite has been nicknamed ‘mini First class’ by many of our frequent flyers. And we’re redesigning our on-board service to help reduce jetlag.”

Although Qantas in making a big fanfare about the Perth – London operation, it will not be the first for the 787-9 in its network. The airline is due to receive its first aircraft in October 2017 with three more due before mid-2018 and a further four from its initial order for eight aircraft due by mid-2019.

The Dreamliner is likely to be initially deployed on domestic flights from the final quarter of 2017 for crew familiarisation purposes before debuting on an existing route, substituting for a 747-400 on the afternoon Melbourne - Los Angeles service from December 2017.  The 787-9 Melbourne-Los Angeles service will operate six days a week and will boost the total number of Qantas services on the route from nine to 13 return flights per week .

As the 787-9 will replace a larger, 364-seat 747-400 that operates twice a week on Melbourne - Los Anngeles, the net capacity increase is approximately 1,400 seats in total. Alongside these confirmed routes the type could ultimately be used on other ultra-long-haul missions such as Melbourne – Dallas and Sydney – Chicago.

“When Qantas created the Kangaroo Route to London in 1947, it took four days and nine stops. Now it will take just 17 hours from Perth non-stop,” said Joyce.

In order to maximise flight connections into Perth, Qantas is likely to schedule the Perth – London flight to depart Western Australia in the evening. A 6am arrival in London would mean a 9pm departure from Perth the previous night. A subsequent 1pm departure from London will mean a return into Perth at 2pm the following day.

The Australian flag carrier currently utilises morning and lunchtime arrival slots and lunchtime and evening departure slots at London Heathrow. It also holds additional slots at each of these times, which are currently leased to British Airways as part of the termination to its previous long-term partnership.

Annual O&D passenger demand between Perth and the UK has grown 14.0 per cent since the start of the decade to just under 360,000 passengers in 2015. This is not much less than the demand in and out of Melbourne, which already has the direct service via Dubai. The growth in passengers is mainly due to the arrival of Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways in the Perth market in 2014 and 2012, respectively.


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