Qantas to use last Brisbane-based 787 for Hong Kong. What happened to Brisbane-Seattle?

Qantas has apparently shelved plans for adding a new North America route from Brisbane and will instead use the last Brisbane-based 787-9 to take over existing Hong Kong flights.


Highlights

  • Qantas has announced plans to deploy the 787-9 on some of its Brisbane-Hong Kong flights, which are currently operated with A330s;
  • Qantas has now finalised a schedule its initial 787-9s, the last of which will be delivered later this year;
  • Qantas will also start deploying 787-9s from Melbourne and Sydney to Hong Kong; its other 787-9 routes include Brisbane-Los Angeles, Melbourne-Perth-London, Melbourne-Los Angeles and Melbourne-San Francisco;
  • The initial network does not include a new Brisbane-US route as initially suggested.

In Aug-2017, Qantas announced plans to base four 787-9s in Brisbane in 2H2018. At the time it stated the aircraft would be used to replace 747-400s on existing routes as well as launch a potential new route to North America. Qantas initially highlighted Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver as options from Brisbane.

In taking delivery of its first 787-9 in Oct-2017, Qantas again highlighted potential new North American routes from Brisbane – including Chicago, Seattle and Dallas.

Qantas’ first four 787s, which were delivered in 4Q2017 and 1Q2018, have been based in Melbourne and used to replace 747-400s on six weekly Melbourne-Los Angeles flights and launch the new daily Perth-London fight (which originates in Melbourne). Qantas is reducing Melbourne-Los Angeles 787 services to two weekly flights from 1-Sep-2018 as it launches four weekly flights from Melbourne-San Francisco. Melbourne-Los Angeles is also served with seven weekly A380 frequencies, which will remain unchanged. In launching Perth-London in Mar-2018, Qantas again stated that it was considering launching services from Brisbane to Dallas, Chicago or Seattle using the last of its four Brisbane-based 787s.

Over the last few months Qantas has repeatedly delayed the announcement of a new US destination from Brisbane, which was expected to operate four times per week using the fourth Brisbane-based 787-9. Instead on 24-Jul-2018 Qantas announced plans to deploy the 787-9s on Brisbane-Hong Kong from 19-Dec-2018. Under the new Brisbane-Hong Kong schedule, the 787-9 will operate two weekly flights while A330s will continue be used for the other five frequencies. Qantas also stated it would temporarily deploy 787-9s on Melbourne-Hong Kong from 13-Dec-2018 to 29-Mar-2019 and deploy 787-9s on Sydney-Hong Kong from 30-Mar-2019.

The fact Qantas has shied away from launching a new long haul from Brisbane is disappointing for Brisbane Airport and Queensland consumers. However, it is a sensible move for Qantas given the relatively unattractive economics of the potential Brisbane-US routes.

Any new Brisbane-US route would be high risk while deploying the last 787 in Asia is very low risk. Using the last 787-9 on existing Hong Kong routes should free up one A330, which in turn can be used to expand in other Asian markets where demand is increasing and capacity can be added without risking Qantas’ profitability.

In an Oct-2017 analysis, Blue Swan commented that Brisbane-Seattle would be particularly risky because it is small market from Australia, accounting for only around 4% Australia-US bookings. Seattle is a particularly small market from Brisbane with an average of only 20 passengers per day travelling between the two cities.

“Qantas supposedly will select the US airport that provides the best deal but given the relative grim prospects of a Brisbane-Seattle route the talk about Seattle seems to be more a negotiating ploy than a serious option,” Blue Swan stated at the time.

See related report: Brisbane to Seattle? You got to be kidding!

Brisbane-San Francisco would have been more logical as San Francisco is the second largest US destination from Brisbane. It is also lower risk because Qantas already serves San Francisco – from Sydney and soon (starting 1-Sep-2018) from Melbourne.

Chicago would be lower risk than Seattle as it is a hub for Qantas partner American Airlines but still a high risk route given the small size of the local Brisbane-Chicago market. Dallas, which is already served from Sydney, is American’s largest hub but also high risk given the small size of the local Brisbane-Dallas market.

The fact is that any new North American route would be risky given the low amount of local traffic from Brisbane to any destination other than Los Angeles. Providing 11 weekly Brisbane-Los Angeles flights arguably provides enough capacity for the Brisbane-US market with domestic connections available at Los Angeles on American and Alaska.

Qantas will have the option of relooking at US expansion using the six additional 787-9s it ordered in May-2018 for delivery from late 2019 to late 2020. However, these six 787-9s will replace Qantas’ last six 747-400s and therefore provide limited options for US network expansion.

Qantas will later decide on a base for the six additional 787-9s aircraft – although Sydney seems most likely for most of the aircraft given the remaining 747-400s are based in Sydney. Qantas is also looking at using the additional 787s to launch a possible second Peth-Europe route. A new Brisbane-North America route may once again be skipped over for other more attractive network options.