Can Emirates overtake SIA and become Oz's leading foreign airline?

28 Mar 2007 by business traveller

Later this year passengers flying the Kangaroo Route between Europe and Australia will experience more choice and keener prices. A new aviation treaty signed last week between the UAE, Qatar and Australia has granted the Gulf airlines a huge increase in flights.

Qatar Airways has finally being allowed to serve Australia from Doha (see Online news, March 21). It can fly to Melbourne and can add a second city, probably Sydney, next year. Flights are expected to start this autumn.

Etihad can operate a further 21 flights a week to Australia. The Abu-Dhabi based airline flew to Sydney for the first time this week (see Online news, January 11). It can add the extra services between now and 2010.

But the deal which Emirates has secured is the most astonishing. Dubai's national airline can hike its current 49 flights to 84 flights a week by 2011 - a 71 per cent increase.

Currently Emirates fields 49 flights a week to four cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. It's expected the extra services will operate to all these four cities although Emirates might also add Adelaide in the future.

All the Gulf airlines provide good connections from Europe so what it means is that Singapore Airlines' (SIA) kangaroo route leadership is being challenged.

Australians hadn't heard of Emirates before 1996. But in the past nine years the carrier has carried 2.5 million passengers on its Australian services. A good proportion of these travellers will have flown between Europe and Australia or vice versa. Before Emirates appeared on the scene many might have chosen to fly Down Under via Singapore with SIA.

SIA remains market leader (amongst foreign carriers) as it's still ahead on frequency. It operates 87 services to five cities: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. But after 2011 Emirates has announced that it would like to move to 112 flights a week by 2014.

Of course, you the reader, will logically assume that SIA will also grow its Australian services over this period. But Emirates' meteoric development mirrors that of Dubai. Conversely SIA's sluggish growth in recent time reflects the economic situation in Singapore.

So whereas Emirates forges ahead year after year with new routes and lots more passengers, SIA's growth has slowed. On this basis Emirates may eclipse SIA after 2011.

Says an Emirates spokesman, "With its hub in Dubai, Emirates is in a unique position to connect passengers east and west as well as north and south of the equator." So Emirates can fuel its Gulf-Oz flights with passengers not just from the Middle East and Europe but also with passengers from Africa, Russia and the Indian subcontinent.

To cement its ties with Australia, Emirates says it has invested over A$1 billion in airport lounges and sponsorship of key sporting and cultural events.

Says Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, "I welcome the successful outcome of this week's negotiations with the UAE. This is a five year strategic approach to growing our air services relationship with the region that provides capacity ahead of demand. Carriers can now confidently commit their aircraft to the Australian market and Australian tourism and trade will be the beneficiaries."

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Report by Alex McWhirter

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