National carrier Qantas will axe several weekly routes across northern Australia in a move that could see the Northern Territory’s tourism figures continue to slide.
- Declining demand sees flights from Cairns to Alice Springs and Darwin axed by Qantas
- Five weekly flights cut from Perth to Alice Springs, four from Perth to Darwin
- Two weekly direct flights added from Adelaide and Darwin to Uluru
And while domestic overnight trips were up across the rest of the country, in the Territory they fell by 11 per cent.
Qantas has now scrapped direct flights from Cairns to Alice Springs and Darwin, with a source from the airline telling the ABC that some flights on those routes were “virtually empty”.
It has also cut five weekly flights from Perth to Alice Springs and four from the West Australian capital to Darwin.
The only silver lining for NT-based tourism bureaucrats is the addition of two weekly Qantas flights from Darwin and Adelaide to Uluru, and a new a discount program for Alice Springs residents flying to Darwin.
It also said Jetstar will increase its services out of Cairns to the Northern Territory.
“We are seeing strong demand for some flights to the Northern Territory, but there are some areas where we are seeing weaker demand from places like Cairns and Perth,” Qantas domestic CEO Andrew David said in a statement.
“We are adding more flights or bigger aircraft where we see demand or new tourism opportunities, and we are making changes to routes which are just not sustainable.
“Our flights between Cairns and Alice Springs and Cairns and Darwin are on average only operating around half full, which is not sustainable.”
The Northern Territory Government said the addition of a direct Darwin-Uluru service would open up “potential” for new tourist packages.
Cabin crew, pilots and engineers to be ‘redeployed’
Qantas, which began as a passenger service between Queensland and the Northern Territory, will also change the aircraft used between Darwin and Alice Springs from March next year.
The carrier will move from a Boeing 717 to a Boeing 737 to service the route, which it says will mean more “luxurious” planes.
However, the airline conceded employees of its sub-contractor, Cobham Aviation, will have to be redeployed outside of Darwin because pilots and crew are not trained on the new aircraft.
The ABC understands the move will affect about 30 cabin crew, pilots and engineers.
“It is anticipated that all employees will be offered continuing employment with Cobham’s operations around Australia,” a spokesperson for Cobham Aviation said in a statement.
“All Cobham staff will be supported throughout the process.”
The Northern Territory Government has made no secret of the importance of tourism to its budget revenue, and has committed $103 million to its so called “turbocharging tourism stimulus”.
In the past two years, Malaysian Airlines and Philippine Airlines have both pulled out of flights into the NT.