Ghost Flights: Qatar Airways Flying Planes Almost Empty to Circumvent Australian Regulations

Qatar Airways has reportedly been operating ghost flights daily between Melbourne and Adelaide, taking advantage of a unique loophole allowing the airline to operate more flights into Australia.

The current bilateral agreement in place between the two countries allows Qatar Airways to operate up to 28 weekly flights between Doha (DOH) and Australia’s four largest international airports – Sydney (SYD), Melbourne (MEL), Brisbane (BNE), and Perth (PER). However, there is no limit on the number of flights the airline can operate to smaller airports, such as Adelaide (ADL).

This led to Qatar Airways launching its Doha – Melbourne – Adelaide – Melbourne – Doha (QR988/989) service in November 2022. The carrier also operates a daily direct service between Doha and Adelaide (QR914/915), which continues onto Auckland (AKL).

A six-hour stop in Melbourne

Qatar Airways flights between Doha and Adelaide via Melbourne operate to the following schedule:

Flight numberRouteDepartureArrival
QR988MEL-ADL05:35 (+1 day)06:35 (+1 day)

With a six-hour overnight layover in Melbourne, it is hardly surprising that so few Adelaide-bound passengers opt to travel on this service, especially when a direct option is also available with the same airline.

This has resulted in the very low passenger numbers seen on the Melbourne – Adelaide leg of the journey. The airline does not have the fifth freedom rights required to sell tickets solely for travel between Melbourne and Adelaide, which does not help to boost the flight’s passenger numbers either.

Ghost flight is typically used to describe a flight with a load factor lower than 10%, operated solely to meet an obligation. Qatar Airways deploys its Boeing 777-300ERs on its QR988/989 service, which can carry up to 354 passengers in a two-class configuration (42 in business class, 312 in economy class).

However, As reported by The Guardian, passenger numbers are believed to be in single digits in the Melbourne – Adelaide sector. With a more reasonable layover time, load factors are understood to be slightly healthier in the return sector but still low. Simple Flying has approached Qatar Airways for comment.

This is not the first time Qatar Airways has taken advantage of the same loophole – the carrier previously operated a second daily service to Sydney via Canberra (CBR).

Qatar Airways’ presence in Australia

Qatar Airways currently connects its hub at Doha’s Hamad International Airport with five Australian gateways – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

Keen to grow its presence in Australia further, the carrier recently applied for a further 21 round-trip slots for major airports in the country. However, this was declined by the Australian government, much to the relief of competitors such as Qantas. For now, at least, any further expansion must be with flights that terminate at minor airports.


Simple Flying

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