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Qatar Operates 'Ghost Flights' to Adelaide Through Regulatory Loophole

Qatar Operates 'Ghost Flights' to Adelaide Through Regulatory Loophole

BY LUKE WIROSTKO 08/13/2023 AGO 4 COMMENTS

Qatar Airways is operating near empty ghost flights between Adelaide and Melbourne in order to get around some particular regulations set by the Australian Government. 

 

Qatar Operates Empty Flights

 

Qatar Airways has been reportedly operating empty daily flights between Melbourne and Adelaide. These flights are not popular with the flying public, so much in fact that these flights are almost always empty. Why would Qatar fly such a route, then? The Ghost flights aim to exploit a loophole in government regulations that would allow Qatar to operate more flights to Australia. 

 

Photo: Aarush Malik | AeroXplorer

 

The Australian and Qatari Governments have a current bilateral agreement that 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). This agreement doesn’t prohibit any flights or frequencies between Doha and smaller Australian airports such as Adelaide (ADL). 

 

As such, Qatar found a loophole that it can use to offer more flights from Doha to Melbourne, flying to non-restricted Adelaide with a stop in Melbourne. Qatar operates a QR988, which flies from Doha to Adelaide, with a layover in Melbourne. This six-hour stop in Melbourne allows Qatar to operate more than the allotted weekly flights into Melbourne, as the flight officially originates in Doha and terminates in Adelaide. In the eyes of the Government, this flight indirectly connects Doha and Adelaide. However, QR988 is meant to fly additional frequencies from Doha to Melbourne, as passengers can terminate their itinerary once the first leg is complete and they land in Melbourne.

 



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The return flight, QR989, utilizes the same strategy, flying from ADL to MEL and then onward to DOH. Most passengers who fly this flight begin their travels in Melbourne before flying to Doha. 

 

Although it may seem Qatar outsmarted regulators and found a loophole, the airline still has to fly that final leg between Melbourne and Adelaide. Since the airline already operates a daily direct service between Doha and Adelaide, only some passengers choose to fly the indirect flight that stops in Melbourne if, in fact, they are trying to fly to Adelaide. The six-hour overnight layover in Melbourne makes the connecting itinerary even more unpopular. Additionally, Qatar doesn’t have fifth freedom privileges, meaning the airline is not allowed to sell tickets solely for the Melbourne to Adelaide part of the journey.

 

Photo: Peter Cuthbert | AeroXplorer

 

It is no surprise, then, that the second leg of QR988 has a pretty low passenger count. Qatar usually deploys its Boeing 777-300ER, which can carry 354 passengers in a two-class configuration. (42 in business class, 312 in economy class). 

 



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The first leg between Doha and Melbourne has healthy passenger numbers; however, given most Qatar travelers don’t continue their journey onto Adelaide once they get off the plane in Melbourne, that second leg onto Adelaide operates as a ghost flight. A ghost flight is typically used to describe a flight with a load factor of less than 10%, meaning the plane is around 90% empty. However, the numbers are even more extreme for QR988’s final leg between MEL and ADE. As reported by the Guardian, passenger numbers are believed to be in the single digits. 

 

Photo: Gautham Kurup | AeroXplorer

 

Not the First Time?

 

The Doha-Based carrier is not a stranger to taking advantage of these loopholes. The airline previously operated an additional flight to Sydney, as the aircraft continued onto Canberra (CBR) after a brief layover in Sydney. 

 



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Qatar recently applied for more round-trip slots for Australia’s major international gateways. However, the Australian Government declined the request as a way to protect local competitors such as Qantas. 

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