Qantas is axing its direct service between Sydney and Beijing in March 2020. It is the third attempt by Qantas over the years to make the route work. Yesterday’s announcement was driven by weakening demand in the face of big capacity increases by competing airlines.
Qantas has been running A330-200s between Sydney and Beijing since 2017, having previously exited the route in 2009. The relaunched flights were initially running daily. At the time, Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce said:
“The tourism industry in Australia is very excited about what the Chinese market will deliver over the next few years, especially given it’s already become our second biggest source of visitors after New Zealand.
There are 21 million people in Beijing alone and from the start of next year (2017) they will be just one Qantas flight away. The potential is tremendous.”
And that has been the whole problem with the Chinese market. The potential is tremendous, but translating that potential into ticket sales has been easier said than done. Qantas had a crack at the route in the 1980s, flying to Beijing between 1984 and 1988. Eighteen years later they went back, perhaps motivated by the impending 2008 Beijing Olympics. That service, initiated in 2006, lasted three years.
Qantas says two factors influenced their most recent to axe services to Beijing. They cite weakening demand. They also mention increased competition from other airlines. A Qantas spokesperson said:
“Overall competitor capacity between Beijing and Australia… is expected to grow even further in 2020.”
In the last decade, Chinese carriers have swamped Australia with flights. On the Sydney – Beijing route alone, both Air China and China Eastern offer direct services most days. Qantas will be referring most of its customers to want to fly straight to Beijing to China Eastern with whom they have a codeshare joint venture.
Qantas is yet to announce exactly when in March 2020 their Beijing flights will end (they have said their Hong Kong and Shanghai flights are performing well and safe). A look at the Qantas website has nonstop flights to Beijing operating on QF107/108 throughout March and into April. That will no doubt change.