The return of international flights to Canberra Airport has been delayed again – they won’t touch down until 1 April next year after Qatar Airways hit the brakes a second time on the much-anticipated event.
Initially, the first Qatar Airways international flight had been scheduled for 1 October.
A further delay has now been announced – scuppering flight plans for many Canberrans who had booked them over the summer holiday break.
Many have taken to social media to express disappointment over the move, with some saying they have now been asked to book a flight to another Australian departure location at their own expense.
Head of Aviation at the airport Michael Thompson once again stressed – as he had done last time – this is just a postponement to next year.
Mr Thompson expressed his disappointment at the news.
“We know Qatar is committed to Canberra and how important it is for them to connect to the Nation’s Capital and the seat of government,” he said.
“We look forward to their restart on 1 April and the resumption of international services to our city.”
Mr Thompson said the airport continued to work to secure other international services, citing Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s recent trip to Fiji as a “positive” move.
“We hope we will be connected to South Pacific and the Middle East by mid-year and that New Zealand will follow shortly after that,” he said.
The Chief Minister last week lobbied airlines in both Fiji and New Zealand to return their operations to the Territory.
On Wednesday (2 November), Mr Barr told reporters he was also working on a similar timeline to the airport on the Fiji flights, and these could resume following Fiji Airways’s decision in the first quarter of next year.
He also flagged the Fiji flight could be used as a stopover for flights to the US or Canada.
Air New Zealand will not be in a position to announce their return for at least 18 months to two years, Mr Barr said.
“They are constrained by aircraft availability and pilots and crew at the moment,” the Chief Minister told reporters.
When it resumes, Qatar Airways will operate a once-daily connection between Doha and Canberra, with a short stopover in Melbourne.
It’s expected flights from Doha will arrive in Canberra at 12:50 am and depart Canberra for Doha at 2:30 pm via Melbourne.
Canberra passengers will collect their luggage and clear customs and immigration in Canberra.
The return of the flights was announced in July 2022.
At the time, Mr Barr described the airline’s return as the strongest signal yet the Territory’s tourism industry was coming back. Qatar Airways first commenced operations in and out of Canberra in 2018.
Work is also underway to entice Singapore Airlines back to Canberra, but no deal has yet been signed.
Earlier this year, Mr Barr led a week-long trade mission to Singapore where he said the topic of resuming flights was brought up at almost every meeting.
“Their major challenge, like most airlines, is recruiting and training the additional staff necessary to expand their operations,” Mr Barr said.
“This may take a little time.”
The Chief Minister flagged the return to near pre-pandemic levels of international travel across other markets would be needed before the Singapore flights would resume.
Qatar Airways was contacted for further comment.