25 August 2023

Why is Qantas cancelling more Canberra to Sydney flights than any other route?

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Plane at Canberra Airport

Qantas cancelled more than three times as many flights from Canberra to Sydney as its rival Virgin Australia in July. Photo: File.

Airport managers have accused Qantas and other major airlines of deliberately cancelling flights in order to block competition from smaller carriers.

The issue is of particular concern at Canberra Airport where Qantas cancelled 103 out of 923 flights to and from Sydney in July, or just over 11 per cent of the total.

Cancellation rates were far lower for the 37 other routes Qantas runs between Australian airports, including the Melbourne to Sydney service, one of the busiest air routes in the world.

There were also considerably fewer cancelled flights in other routes operating out of Canberra – for example, Qantas ran 348 flights between Brisbane and Canberra, and only two services were cancelled over the month.

Qantas cancelled more than three times as many flights from Canberra to Sydney as its rival Virgin Australia in July, which uses Link Airways aircraft and crew to operate the same route.

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Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron has already voiced his concerns about the high levels of cancellations on the Canberra to Sydney route.

“Qantas is particularly picking on this Canberra-Sydney service,” Mr Byron told ABC Radio yesterday.

“They fly a lot of different routes into Sydney Airport with cancellation rates that are heaps better. For example, it’s 10 times better if they’re flying from Adelaide, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast or Wagga. It’s five times better if they’re flying from Hobart, Launceston, Port Macquarie and about three or four other places.

“So Qantas can fly into Sydney Airport and not cancel flights, but they’re deliberately choosing to cancel the Canberra-Sydney flights.”

Mr Byron said the Melbourne route, the second worst for cancellations, is notorious, yet the Canberra cancellation rate is 45 per cent worse.

“They’ve got us right on a pedestal for cancellations. Quite frankly, Qantas have been doing this for months and months and months and are thumbing their nose at Canberra travellers. We’re just copping the raw end of the pineapple here.”

He said consumers are being “treated like mugs” by Qantas and that the Federal Government, as a regulator of the aviation industry, needs to step in to ensure the airline compensates passengers affected by cancellations.

“It’s time for Federal Government action because Qantas are indicating they’re not prepared to fix the problem.”

In his submission to the Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into promoting economic dynamism, competition and business formation, Sydney Airport’s chief executive Geoff Culbert said there were clear signs that major airlines were taking advantage of the ’80/20 rule’, meaning an airline must use its slot 80 per cent of the time to retain it for the following season.

“We continue to see evidence of unused slots going to waste, with a persistent mismatch between slots held by domestic airlines and the schedule that is flown,” he said.

“Over the decade leading to COVID, Sydney Airport began to see a pattern of behaviour, supported by the data, which indicated that the major incumbent domestic airlines historically filed for more slots than they needed.

“The airlines then cancelled certain flights on high frequency routes, consolidating those services with lower passenger numbers onto flights either side of the original time, but always staying above the 80% usage requirement.

“Such behaviour locks up part of the slot pool and can increase the difficulty for new entrants to compete against the entrenched dominant airlines, which can in turn impact on competition amongst airlines.”

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Qantas has consistently denied claims of ‘slot hoarding’ and said that it tries hard to prevent cancellations from happening.

A Qantas spokesperson said: “The main driver of cancellations at Sydney isn’t Qantas. It’s chiefly weather and, to some degree, air traffic control staffing shortages.”

The spokesperson said the combination of these two factors caused Sydney Airport to operate at reduced capacity for 17 out of 30 days in June.

Asked why cancellations particularly affect Canberra Airport, Qantas told Region it’s because frequent services like Canberra-Sydney or Melbourne-Sydney can be more easily rescheduled, often within an hour or less of the original time.

“Airlines cancel more flights on high-frequency routes … because customers can be moved to one of dozens of other flights each day, meaning it’s less disruptive,” they said.

“If flights to places like Townsville or Tamworth are cancelled it can have a much bigger impact on customers and cause long disruptions.”

Stephen Byron and Canberra Airport were contacted for comment.

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if the chief minister spend 1/2 the time lobbying for cost affordable air transport interstate as he does going after international flights .we might think he is doing partly good job

I have not booked a time-critical Qantas flight to Sydney for years. Murray’s Coaches has been my reliable, modestly priced alternative.

Gave up on QANTAS in 2007 after they committed a sin. Have only flown QANTAS three times since then when time was of the essence and they were the only viable choice. Far as I’m concerned they are not a worthy consideration, can go broke as far as I’m concerned.

Gregg Heldon5:03 pm 26 Aug 23

We drive to Sydney Airport and park in the long term car parks when we go on holidays. We became members of the carpark and receive offers on a regular basis.
One tank of petrol return. Cheaper than Canberra airport for a week’s parking most of the time. Don’t have to worry about a bus timetable.

QANTAS used to be great until a fella from Ireland turned it into a train wreck

Depends on your perspective, FP. I imagine AJ would believe he turned it into a gravy train.

davidmaywald5:53 am 26 Aug 23

I have personally had two morning flights cancelled and delayed by Qantas in recent months. One was the first flight for the day at 6 am, with an hour and a half buffer before my first meeting (at 8.30 am in Sydney). Just like compliant little sheep we board the plane as directed, then a curious discovery of a technical fault. Off we go, disembarking. Multiple delays, cancellation, re-bookings. Various excuses of air traffic control, weather, engineering – never taking responsibility or accepting failure/conflict of interest… Arrive at Sydney Airport at 11 am, having missed the first two meetings and impossible to make the start of the third… It’s more reliable to drive, catch the bus or train. And embarrassingly for Qantas it is often quicker to travel by road or rail than it is to fly from the nation’s capital to the largest city in the country… The company is completely taking advantage of their privileged rights to the Canberra-Sydney route, and is abusing customers. They have destroyed their brand and have earnt distrust from customers.

The reason Qantas cancels Canberra Sydney flights so options is doing so is the far better option when there are delays and problems with planes on other regional routes.

Canberra is easy to cancel because there are so many flights per day and the dash-8 aircraft that operate most of them generally just shuttle between Canberra and Sydney. So if for example the plane that’s to operate a flight from Sydney to someone in regional NSW is delayed or has a tech problem it’s simple to move the plane scheduled to operate to Canberra to that route and cancel the Canberra flight. Then when that plane arrives or is repaired it can slot back into the schedule of the Canberra flight.

The only passengers effected are the 40-70 passengers each way on that Canberra flight who can easily be moved to later flights but if the regional flight where to be the one cancelled the disruption to schedule for the day would have far greater impact and cost.

As a passenger I don’t like it, it’s happened to me many a time but that’s the business reality of it all.

In July, Qantas scheduled 923 flights between Sydney and Canberra and cancelled 103 of them, JC – 11 per cent of its total. If what you say is true, then QANTAS has a real issue with its maintenance of planes due to tech problems, because other airlines don’t seem to have that degree of impact from scheduling delays.

As reported in the Canberra times, it’s well known the QANTAS and, although to a lesser extent, Virgin engage in ‘slot hoarding’, where they book departure and arrival slots so other competitor airlines can’t get them, and then cancel them later, without any repercussions, as long as they don’t exceed the 80:20 rule – whereby they can’t cancel more than 20% of flights within a particlular slot.

It’s a classic example of sanctioned uncompetitive behaviour.

The complete unreliability of flights between Canberra and Sydney has encouraged more people to use buses and trains.

Whilst the actual travel time may be longer on bus or train, the time out of action is no greater as there’s no waiting around airports to board, additional security processes, nor trips that don’t happen. There’s also much more usable time on a computer/phone on a bus or train.

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