6 February 2023

International flight delays are an ongoing blow to Canberra's relevance

| Ross Solly
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Singapore Airline plane at Canberra Airport

How much longer do we have to wait for international flights to resume? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

I’ve always considered the end of the silly season to be the day after Australia Day when most reluctantly put away the swimmers, the cabanas and the towels, stop sitting up late watching tennis or cricket, and probably return to work/school/study or other important stuff to keep the economy ticking over.

As many of us ease into our regular routines, we start planning our next holiday. And after a summer of inflated airline prices, some scepticism still about COVID, and a lack of dosh because of interest rates, finding good value options is becoming more and more difficult.

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The news this week that Qatar Airlines has delayed once again its return to Canberra is a major disappointment.

Yes, we know it was a bit of a Mickey Mouse arrangement, where we still had to fly to Sydney before heading off overseas or come back through Sydney on our return, but at least we didn’t have to do that annoying transfer from the domestic terminal to the international terminal in Sydney. And it did feel good to get the passport checked and clear customs in our own city before jetting off to all points of the globe.

Talking to Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron, I got the sense there is still some way to go before Qatar is back. At the moment, the service the Middle Eastern airline used to provide to us through Sydney is now going to Adelaide via Melbourne.

It will be a big ask for Qatar to give up what I assume is a more lucrative link to the South Australian capital to return once again to Canberra, where we will always struggle for similar numbers.

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Chief Minister Andrew Barr has invested quite a bit of time and money in trying to encourage international airlines to fly into Canberra. We know he is still leaning on Singapore Airlines to come back with what were genuinely direct flights, and he’s also been speaking to Fiji Airlines and Air New Zealand.

Byron believes we only need one domino to fall for the others to follow and that Singapore Airlines might be that domino. But he also said Qantas is raking in big bucks from domestic flights in and out of Canberra, so maybe the national carrier might look at putting on international flights from the national capital.

Byron is frustrated with Qantas.

He felt the national carrier let Australia down during the early stages of the pandemic, leaving it to Qatar and Singapore Airlines to pick up the slack and continue flying vaccinations etc into Australia. And he thinks the tardiness of Qantas to get back to full capacity since the lockdowns is doing an enormous disservice to the travelling public.

We are all sensible enough to understand we will never be, or certainly not in our lifetimes, a major international airline hub. But we are the national capital, and the longer we go without any international flights, the less relevant we look on the world stage.

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Speaking of international connections, what was Brendan Smyth been up to the last few years. What international engagements has he delivered?

Capital Retro7:34 am 08 Feb 23

Smyths contract expires in 2 months time. I guess he is making plans for his retirement which will be taxpayer funded..

One day a rooster, next day a feather duster.

Maybe if Byron and co reduced the exorbitant airline fees to something on par with other major airports, more airlines might consider flying in and out of CBR. Further to that, more people would fly in and out of CBR as the ticket prices would be reduced because the airlines would be paying more reasonable tarmac fees.

What the fees at present here in Canberra, relative to the other airports?

Maybe if Byron and Co would reduce the exorbitant fees they charge the airlines to land at CBR down to something on par with other airports, they might find that more airlines are willing to come to CBR. Further to that, more people would fly in and out of Canberra as the ticket costs would be lower. It’s not rocket science!

Capital Retro8:22 am 07 Feb 23

I don’t think Qantas have any suitable aircraft to undertake direct international flights in and out of Canberra.

Besides, if they did and there was money to be made they would be doing it already.

Airlines are there to make money as they have loan commitments to repay and profits to make to distribute to shareholders. Barr’s huge loss-making light rail is underwritten by we mug ratepayers. He can’t see the difference between the two modes of transport.

A330-200 & 300 models are perfectly suited? 787 Dreamliner might be over qualified for a Singapore route, still very capable of working it.

Capital Retro8:55 am 08 Feb 23

I think the aircraft you nominated are configured only for domestic services. I don’t think Canberra Airport has the infrastructure to handle the Dreamliner, yet.

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