Qantas has quietly grounded bi-weekly flights between Melbourne and Exmouth on the same day it launched another direct interstate flight between northern WA and the east coast.
Qantas has quietly grounded bi-weekly flights between Melbourne and Exmouth on the same day it launched another direct interstate flight between northern Western Australia and the east coast.
The embattled national carrier confirmed on Wednesday it would no longer be flying the route launched just seven months ago to much fanfare using 189-seater Boeing 737 aircraft.
The move is a blow to Exmouth businesses and Tourism WA, which had ramped up marketing of Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef on the eastern seaboard in response to the new service.
And adding extra insult for Exmouth residents, the confirmation came on the same day Qantas launched direct Port Hedland-to-Brisbane flights for the first time in three years.
A Qantas spokesperson said the carrier was open to restarting the route in the future.
“With a number of our 737 pilots set to begin transitioning to our new Airbus A321XLRs ahead of their expected arrival at the end of next year, we’ve had to slightly revise our B737 network plans for 2024,” he said.
“As a result, we’ve made the difficult decision not to restart our seasonal flights between Melbourne and Exmouth next year.”
Exmouth Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Sarah Booth said the loss of high-spending east coast tourists would be huge to local business.
“(The chamber and state government) have wasted all of that time building up the awareness campaign over the last twelve months … and now it is money down the drain,” she said.
“The most disappointing part of this is that we were told it was due to the unavailability of aircraft, yet they have just announced a new route coming online for Port Hedland.
“That ripple effect is going to be absolutely huge on our local businesses, and we are really worried what the impact will be next year.”
Tourism Minister Rita Saffioti said the state government had requested discounted Perth-to-Exmouth flights from Qantas for the 2024 season in light of the cancellation.
“This is disappointing news for our regional tourism industry in Australia’s Coral Coast, and I’ve written to Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson to express that view,” she said.
“Our government knows how important regional aviation access is and have provided significant support to the aviation industry.
“Programs like the affordable airfare program and regional airfare zone cap scheme are extremely well-received, and importantly, drive demand for airlines and the tourism industry.”
The flight was launched after this year’s total solar eclipse and was predicted to save as many as 18,000 interstate tourists three hours’ flight time by going direct to Learmonth instead of via Perth between April and October.
Anecdotal evidence suggests flights were on average 50 to 60 per cent full, which did represent an acceptable capacity.
But while it is understood demand was high, extreme accommodation pressures in Exmouth meant many holidaymakers were planning trips out to next year and beyond.
Ms Booth said marketing on the east coast was just beginning to build awareness of the product.
“We have done a huge amount of work on demonstrating to Qantas around how we would believe it would be even more successful in the years to come,” she said.
“For a family or four people planning a trip across the country it is not something that they look at and then book the following week, they really need a twelve-month leeway to plan and save.”
Qantas domestic and international chief executive Andrew David said at the service’s launch the carrier was proud of the route, adding it would be a popular destination for Victorians.
“The lure of Exmouth’s warm weather, coral reefs and the opportunity to swim with whale sharks has driven strong demand, particularly over the upcoming winter months,” he said at the time.
The flights operated on Sunday and Thursday.
Qantas is the only carrier servicing Exmouth, a fact Ms Booth said might have to change in the wake of the decision.
The Port Hedland to Brisbane route will run until March and patronage will be key to the service’s extension.