Gulf airline Qatar Airways has finally secured the right to fly to Australia. In a deal signed last week Qatar can begin flying to Melbourne this year and is able to add a second Australian city, probably Sydney, next year.
It's not clear when Qatar will launch flights but it's likely to be by the autumn when travel demand to Australia is at its peak. Neither has the airline finalised whether it will fly non-stop from Doha or route its flights via Bangkok or Singapore. But were Qatar to operate non-stop it will have the right plane for the job as it's now taking delivery of a fleet of Airbus A340-600s.
Qatar is expected to market the new service to European travellers who take the kangaroo route to Australia. First and business class passengers find it easy to transit Doha airport now that Qatar has established a premium terminal. The carrier is the fourth Gulf airline (the others being Gulf Air, Emirates and Etihad) to serve Australia.
Often overlooked in favour of Sydney, Melbourne badly needs the extra passengers which Qatar will bring. According to The Age (the city's local newspaper) the number of passengers using Melbourne airport declined by 500,000 in 2005/2006 compared with the previous year. If this wasn't enough, Melbourne will lose its remaining European carrier when Austrian Airlines pulls its three times a week B777 service next Saturday (March 24).
Report by Alex McWhirter