Qantas is doubling down on its move into India, launching direct flights between Melbourne and New Delhi for the first time in its history alongside a new service from Sydney set to start next month.
The airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce said he expected strong demand for the service given Melbourne has a large Indian community, and based on the “unbelievable” number of bookings on its new Sydney-Delhi service since the flights went on sale last month.
Qantas expects more people will want to fly direct and avoid overseas hubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In December there are only nine empty seats on our operation for that month, and we saw a lot of connecting traffic from Melbourne to Sydney, and that gave us confidence to fly direct from Melbourne to Delhi,” he said from Melbourne Airport on Monday.
Qantas has not flown direct commercial flights to India for almost a decade, instead servicing the country via Singapore where passengers connected on its codeshare partner Jet Airways, which went bankrupt in 2019.
But Mr Joyce said that since the COVID-19 pandemic customers wanted to fly to their destination directly and avoid transferring through an overseas hub.
“We think the demand for that is going to be quite substantial,” he said. “And we’re hopeful that once we see also tourists… and students, the demand will be even bigger because we’re missing a couple of very big parts of the market and already the flights are very full.“
On Monday, Qantas operated its first international commercial flight out of Melbourne in 20 months as it gradually restarts its long-haul network, with flight QF35 to Singapore departing at 11.50am.
Australia and Singapore opened a two-way travel bubble on Sunday, allowing vaccinated residents move between the two countries without going into quarantine. That marked the first time since March 2020 that non-residents, other than New Zealanders, have been able to travel to Australia without isolating on arrival.
Australia launched a $4 million advertising campaign in Singapore last week in the hope visitors from the city state will help revive the country’s moribund international tourism industry.
Foreign airlines have been flying in and out of Melbourne since November 1 when Victoria and NSW both reopened their borders to quarantine-free travel for vaccinated travellers.
Qantas was set to restart flying Melbourne-London at the start of the month, when it commenced flights from Sydney, but delayed that until November 27 due to low demand.
Mr Joyce said on Monday that Melbourne had been “was a little bit slower than Sydney in getting out from under the doona” but there were now strong bookings for both cities.
“It’s mainly before Christmas as you’d expect, people coming into Australia, but we are seeing the demand open up in both directions,” he said.
India accounted for around 178,000 visitors to Victoria every year and more than 67,000 international students before the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia. The state has the largest Indian population in the country, with more than 209,000 Victorians reporting Indian heritage at the 2016 census.
Qantas’ Melbourne-Delhi service starts will start on December 22 and operate four times a week year-round. Outbound flights will initially operate via Adelaide. Sydney-Delhi will start on December 6.
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