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QATAR AIRWAYS: Running ‘Ghost flights’ between Melbourne and Adelaide

QATAR AIRWAYS: Running ‘Ghost flights’ between Melbourne and Adelaide

The Australian edition of The Guardian is running a story about Qatar Airways using a loophole in aviation law and its bilateral agreement with Australia to run extra flights to Melbourne via Adelaide. These close-to, or in fact, empty flights between Melbourne and Adelaide are a way of introducing a second service between Melbourne and Doha that doesn’t contravene its current agreement with the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

a purple and white kitchen with a tray of fruit
Qatar Airways lounge area on the A380 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]


Previously, Qatar did the same thing out of Sydney by extending the flight to make the final port Canberra.

Qatar is desperate to increase its services to Australia. It currently has an agreement for 21 flights servicing Australia, with restrictions placed on the number of flights it can run out of major capital cities – that is Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. It recently applied to add 28 permanent flights consisting of 21 into Sydney (three per day) and seven into Melbourne (an additional one per day). This request was denied, and it is unclear why. Indications are that the reasoning had something to do with the previous incident of invasive searches of women hauled off a Qatar flight in Doha, the Qatar government’s history on human rights, also with a suggestion that the weight of Qantas opposition also played a part.

a row of bowls of food
Qatar Airways Mezz plate in Business Class on the A380 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

What Qatar is doing with this Dohar/Melbourne/Adelaide flight

Qatar is exploiting a loophole in the current agreement that allows it to run a service terminating or initiating in a non-major capital city in Australia but servicing that via a major capital city. So servicing Adelaide via Melbourne or Canberra via Sydney. These routes between capital cities aren’t ‘fifth freedom‘ rights since Qatar cannot market the sectors separately.

Qatar’s Doha to Melbourne flight QR988 arrives in Melbourne at 11:30 pm. Most passengers then disembark. But if you are booked through to Adelaide, you have a six-hour layover in Melbourne until 5:35 am when the flight to Adelaide departs. That’s due to Adelaide Airports’ 11 pm to 6 am curfew.

Outbound, the QR989 flight leaves Adelaide at 11:40 am, landing in Melbourne an hour and a half later. Then it’s a 1 hr and 45min layover before heading to Doha. The Adelaide legs on both these trips, using Boeing 777-300s capable of taking 354 passengers, are lightly populated; think fingers on hands, if there are any passengers at all. If leaving from Adelaide, why would you make this trip via Melbourne when there is a direct Qatar service to Doha?

Patronage is so low on both Melbourne-Adelaide legs of these trips they are considered ghost flights – the term for a usually loss-making service operated with zero passengers or fewer than 10% capacity in order to meet an obligation.

Elias Visontay, Guardian Australia
a seat with a small blue case and a blue case on the side
Qatar Airways Business Class, A380 in 2018 between Sydney and Doha [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

The reasons for these restrictions

Governments impose these restrictions to promote flights from secondary ports, in this case, Adelaide and Canberra, but as we have seen, they can also be exploited by airlines.

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport seems unhappy about this and has insisted that Qatar make cargo capacity and ticket sales available terminating out of Adelaide. Anecdotally, Qatar initially didn’t sell tickets to and from the final Adelaide destination.

a man and woman sitting at a table with a couple of children
Q Suites on Qatar Airways [Qatar Airways]

2PAXfly Takeout

As a flight consumer, I wish that Australia would open its skies even more. If there was more competition there would be greater downward pressure on airfares.

As a shareholder/fanboy, it sticks in my craw that Qantas claims to be a ‘National Airline’ when it’s a public company. It’s a private enterprise airline with an Australian base for some of its operations. It runs airlines in other countries and has cabin crew operations in various countries, including New Zealand.

On the other hand, Qatar Airways, I think, one of the best in the world for hard and soft products is not without problems. A Qatari government investment company owns it. That government has a hideous record on human rights, rights of women, or treatment of the LGBTQI+ and immigrant communites.

How do I justify using them? Well, if human rights abuse records of governments were the only measure being used, even Qantas would come under question. The Australian government’s track record on the treatment of its first national people. More blatantly, most of the middle eastern carriers would be out, plus Singapore Airlines. Operators on the Indian subcontinent, African carriers, Eastern Europe, Russian airlines, and South America would be excluded. What about airlines in the USA, now or under the Trump administration? Or do they get a free pass because they lack government ownership?

Don’t take this as saying directing your dollar according to your human rights or political views is wrong. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that decisions around these issues are complex and individual. I advise keeping well informed and weighing your decision along with all the other factors like convenience, price etc.

Will I travel on Qatar Airways again? Probably. Although with what they are charging, not in the near future. I’ll also be keeping up to date on their actions in the human rights arena.

Tell me how you evaluate these human rights issues when deciding who to fly with.


  1. derek

    The article unfairly picks on Singapore and Singapore Airlines. Singapore does not have human rights abuse. Singapore’s democracy and human rights record is among the best in the world, better than Canada or Australia, but not #1.

    • 2paxfly

      Hi Derek, thanks for your comment. While I understand your point, the Human Rights Watch organisation disagrees. While same sex was decriminalized, your Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also introduced constitutional amendments to limit marriage to heterosexual couples in perpetuity. As I say in the post, these are individual decisions.

  2. David S

    Qantas does not even offer international flights out of Adelaide so they should shut the hell up. Qantas abandoned Adelaide and South Australia decades ago. South Australians for the most part support any foreign airline that would offer international flights whilst Qantas still insists on transiting Adelaidians via Melbourne and Sydney.

    • 2paxfly

      David S, Thanks so much for your comment. As an Adelaide native, now in Sydney, I hear you brother!


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