Qantas has secured a new deal with Alliance Airlines to improve the number of flights it offers to regional Australia, which are anticipated to surge in demand once state border restrictions stabilise.
The partnership with Alliance, which predominantly operates charter fly-in fly-out services, will allow the premier airline to retain central Australian services on smaller aircraft on a more frequent operating schedule.
Alliance’s E190 jets will replace Qantas’s larger Boeing 737s on various routes between Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin, with the deal contracted for three years with an option to extend to 14 years.
The regional charter carrier will operate the airline and crew; however, cabin crew and services will resemble an ordinary Qantas flight.
QantasLink chief executive John Gissing said the deal represented the level of flexibility needed in the aviation industry, which is having to adapt to significant changes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know this current climate of snap border closures will pass and we want to be ready for the recovery and for what is a structurally different market to what we had pre-COVID,” Mr Gissing said.
“The ability to switch on extra capacity with Alliance will help us make the most of opportunities in a highly competitive environment, and having the right aircraft on the right route helps us deliver the schedule and network that customers want.”
The operating schedule is expected to begin in June.
E190 jets, which accommodate approximately 94 passengers, have a longer flying time than Qantas’s fleet of smaller Boeing 717s, which makes the planes more desirable on longer routes.
The Boeing 737s used on these routes typically carry 180 passengers. Larger planes can be less cost-efficient if seats are not bought on the flight.
Qantas intends to use 737 planes on more popular destinations such as Byron Bay/Ballina, which has surged in demand due to closed international borders.
“The E190 is a perfect mid-size regional jet for routes like these ones in northern Australia. It has longer range than our 717s and it’s about half the size of our 737s, which means the economics work well on longer flights between cities and towns outside of the top five population centres,” Mr Gissing said.
“Instead of one or two flights a day with a larger aircraft, we can offer three or four flights a day on the E190, which gives customers in these cities a lot more choice about when they travel.”
It is understood Qantas international crew will be able to work on these routes while overseas travel is halted and will be employed by Alliance.
“By the time we switch on this extra capacity with Alliance, we expect all of our own domestic crews will have already returned to flying,” Mr Gissing said.
Qantas has a 20 per cent stake in Alliance Airlines.
The flights will offer both economy and business-class options.