Thursday, December 12, 2013

QANTAS A380 super jumbos heading from Dubai to Australia sometimes leave half full as the flying kangaroo struggles to fill the giant planes in quiet travel periods. 
Figures obtained by The Australian show some 484-seat A380s heading to Melbourne in November and early December had more than 200 of their 406 economy and premium economy seats unfilled a day before departure. In one case, more than half the business class cabin's 64 flat-bed seats were also without paying customers as were eight of its 14 high-yielding first-class seats. The figures do not include staff travel or other subsidised tickets.

The situation was less dire on Dubai-Sydney routes where one plane had 131 unsold economy and premium economy seats and another 111. There were 11 business-class seats spare on one flight and just one on another while six and eight of the first-class suites were registered as available.
The figures back up comments from pilots and flight attendants about empty seats on Qantas A380s, including one report that passengers from two of the big planes were accommodated on one after a breakdown.

The arrival of the Christmas peak season has seen empty seats dwindle rapidly and planes now filling but the November figures raise questions about whether the airline's reliance on A380s gives it sufficient flexibility.

Some industry observers, many of them pilots, believe the airline would have been better served buying the twin-engine Boeing 777s.

The pilots argue a 777 fleet would have afforded the flexibility to do long-range missions such as Sydney-Dallas as well as destinations such as Hong Kong with lower fuel costs. Both aircraft work well when full but the pilots note it is harder to fill a 380 and the big planes need a high load factor to make them pay. There are fears Qantas may axe one of its two flights beyond Dubai.

"I think the future of the industry is going to long-range twins and fuel, as Alan (Joyce) says, is the biggest part of his expense," a senior Qantas pilot said.

While the pilot said the decision to buy the A380s "was probably the right one" at the time, he believed Qantas should have taken options on the 777 so that it was able to bring them into the fleet as the aircraft's capabilities increased.

"I think you don't have to look too much further than Cathay (Pacific) to see what works and it would have made sense for us to do the 777s a long time ago given where we're situated on the planet," he said.

Qantas, which would not confirm the figures obtained by The Australian, said a dip in demand on the traditionally quiet shoulder period did not override the fact that the A380 was also favoured on major routes by partner Emirates, and was the superior aircraft for the Dubai route in terms of product, capacity and cost-efficiency.

The airline ordered the A380s in 2000 before the Boeing 777-300ER, the larger long-range version of the plane, was available, but says it would still not have picked the Boeing plane.

The A380 in its original configuration of 450 seats had a 7 per cent per-seat cost advantage over the B777-300ER. Qantas recently increased its seating density to 484 seats to improve the economics.

It also saw the A380 as more appropriate for "dense" routes with high-passenger loads to destinations such as Heathrow, where airport slots were limited.

"We have considered the B777 at various times, including as a potential B744 replacement and a potential option for Jetstar International," a spokesman said. "However, by the late 2000s the B787 was on the market, offering next generation technology, superior fuel efficiency and a better customer experience.

"With 50 B787 options available, we have more than enough flexibility to support renewal and growth for both Qantas's and Jetstar's international fleets, though clearly that is contingent on the group's financial performance.

"Even if it were commercially viable, it would make no sense to override these options with an order for B777s for Qantas International, given the cost and complexity of introducing a new fleet type."

On the question of the wider partnership with Emirates and whether customers were choosing to fly with the Dubai airline instead of the flying kangaroo, the Qantas spokesman said the partnership was performing "extremely well".

It pointed to Dubai International Airport traffic statistics that showed the alliance had helped drive up passenger traffic between the Gulf destination and Australia by 40 per cent in the first six months.

"The Dubai route is strong when you'd expect it to be strong and softer when you'd expect it to be softer," a spokesman said. "The European summer was a peak time and the Christmas holiday period is very heavily booked. This route has the highest customer-satisfaction ratings on our international network."

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