Qantas expands 717 domestic network


A QantasLink 717 at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

Qantas plans to operate more domestic routes with its fleet of Boeing 717s in order to free up 737s for extra overseas flying.

Two-class 717s featuring 12 business and 98 economy seats will be deployed on Adelaide-Brisbane, Brisbane-Townsville and Brisbane-Mt Isa routes, as well as a seasonal Melbourne-Maroochydore service during December and January, to “match capacity with lower demand”, Qantas said on Wednesday.

This will free up 174-seat (12 business, 162 economy) Boeing 737-800s to add a daily Brisbane-Port Moresby flight and boost Brisbane-Christchurch to daily from three times weekly from October 30. There is also a new daily Melbourne-Christchurch service scheduled to start from December 4.

Qantas recently signed a contract extension worth A$1.2 billion for Cobham Aviation Services to continue to operate the 717 on behalf of QantasLink for a further 10 years.

The new deal has Cobham continuing to supply pilots and cabin crew for QantasLink’s fleet of 20 717s, as well as line maintenance engineering in some locations.

While initially mainly used on regional routes in Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory, Qantas’s announcement on Wednesday continues the airline’s recent move to utilise the 717 fleet on more capital city services.

In 2013 the type was introduced on services to Canberra, while in 2014, QantasLink’s 717s took over Qantas mainline 737s on services from Hobart to Melbourne and Sydney, and some Adelaide-Sydney flights have also switched to the 717.

While Qantas boosts its operations 100-seat aircraft – its 717s have either 110-seats in a two-class configuration or 125 all-economy seats – the reverse is happening at domestic rival Virgin Australia, which is withdrawing its fleet of 98-seat Embraer E190 jets over the next three years as part of fleet simplification and cost reduction efforts.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said recently the airline was looking to buy the 717s it currently had on lease as those leases expired and was on the lookout for further acquisitions in what was a scarce market.

“We’ve been out there hunting for more,” Joyce told reporters in early June.

“They are a great aircraft. If there was a possibility of getting a few more of them, we’d be keen on them.”

Meanwhile, Qantas said it planned to grow its Perth-Singapore offering to double-daily, up from 10 times a week currently, between December and February. The oneworld alliance member was also returning to Bali with seasonal flights from Sydney for a second year.

“The changes are made possible by reductions in domestic capacity, particularly in some regional resources markets, and efficient aircraft utilisation, which has freed up flying time within Qantas’s Boeing 737 fleet,” Qantas said in a statement.

The start of Brisbane-Port Moresby flights would also result in the end of Cairns-Port Moresby services operated by QantasLink Q400 turboprops. Qantas said the change to Brisbane would “better serve the business market”. However, Qantas will continue to place its QF airline code on all of Air Niugini’s Australia-Papua New Guinea flights, including from Port Moresby to Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney.

Also, Qantas said it would add a sixth weekly flight between Sydney and Manila, up from five times a week currently, between December and January. The route is served with Airbus A330 widebodies.

Australian Aviation

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