Canberra Airport’s runway is not long enough to accommodate a long-haul flight to Doha. (ABC News: Tom Lowrey)
First Singapore Airlines, now Qatar Airways — apparently Canberra is big enough for the both of them.
Despite boasting a population of about 400,000, Canberra this week saw the arrival of its second international air service.
Daily flights from Doha will arrive and return via Sydney.
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar al-Baker said he would prefer to fly direct, but Canberra’s runway fell short of the required 4.3 kilometres for outgoing flights.
He rejected suggestions the airline was only using Canberra as a back-door way of getting a second route into Sydney, but Australian Business Traveller editor David Flynn said that surely came into play because it gave them “two bites at the apple”.
Qatar Airways is dipping its toe into the market with Singapore Airlines. (ABC News: Tom Lowrey)
“Sydney is obviously a huge market for Qatar,” he said.
“It already flies its Airbus A380 daily into Sydney, and that’s pretty full. So to be able to add another flight into Sydney, that’s a big thing.”
Despite Singapore Airlines’ Wellington-to-Canberra connection getting scrapped after about 18 months, the presence of a triangular route with Sydney means Canberrans can still fly directly out to Singapore.
Meanwhile, the Qatar connection stops in Sydney on the way in and out, but still means competition for international passengers in Canberra.
Canberra’s fly-in, fly-out nature puts it in good stead
Mr al-Baker was adamant about the viability of being the second international airline in the ACT, saying the capital was ripe in spite of its relatively small number of residents.
“Air services don’t only depend on the population,” he said.
Akbar al-Baker (2nd from left) said Qatar Airways would not be flying to Canberra if it was not viable. (ABC News: Tom Lowrey)
“It depends on how many people visit here, how many politicians come here, how many businessmen come here, how many delegations come here, how many conferences you have here — all this adds up to the requirement of air services.
“We are not only coming here to serve the half a million population that live here, we are coming to provide connectivity to the city.”
Mr Flynn said he would not be surprised if a price war started between the two airlines as they competed for the same international travelling base.
He said with enough motivated travellers the market could become even busier with the arrival of another Asian airline, like Cathay Pacific.
“If you think about an educated, monied population that wants to travel, Hong Kong obviously has a lot of appeal,” he said.
“There might also be appeal to get a low-cost airline in here to move a lot of the students and backpackers around. I think that could well be next on the list.”
Regardless of what happens in the future, he said Canberra was on its way to becoming “a truly international airport”.