Qantas sets sights on Tasman market domination, expands "Trans-Tasman Network" as travel demand bounces back.

Qantas, the Australian national carrier, is gearing up for a strategic battle against Air New Zealand in an effort to assert dominance in the Tasman market. With plans to expand its trans-Tasman network beyond pre-pandemic levels, Qantas aims to seize the initiative.

Among potential targets are the Auckland-Sunshine Coast route and the introduction of direct flights to Perth. Qantas has already fired its opening shot by announcing a new daily service between Wellington and Brisbane, scheduled to commence at the end of October. The service will be operated using Embraer E190 aircraft, with 94 seats—approximately half the size of the Boeing 737-800 typically used for Tasman flights. This move offers Qantas a cost advantage over larger jets.

The introduction of the E190 on the Tasman marks a new chapter, with Qantas also set to receive 20 Airbus A220-300 regional jets later this year. Aviation industry consultant Brendan Sobie believes this presents opportunities for secondary routes to Australia's eastern seaboard. Sobie suggests destinations such as Canberra and Newcastle could be served, as smaller aircraft make these services more viable compared to operating large jets.

House of Travel chief operating officer Brent Thomas concurs, emphasizing that the E190 will unlock possibilities for Qantas to open new routes, going beyond the traditional Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne connections. Thomas highlights the potential of Hamilton Airport, given its proximity to popular tourism activities in Waikato and Bay of Plenty, making it an attractive option for tourists seeking a combined Australian and New Zealand cultural experience.

Mark Morgan, CEO of Hamilton Airport, expresses openness to international services but acknowledges the likelihood of airlines focusing on profitable routes as they rebuild their balance sheets. While competition from Auckland Airport would be formidable, Sobie suggests smaller aircraft could also be deployed to increase frequency on existing routes, benefiting business travelers and potentially turning previously unprofitable routes into viable options.

Sobie predicts that Virgin Australia, currently in the process of rebuilding its operations after collapsing into administration in April 2020, will likely return to the Tasman market in due course. He also believes that Australia's newest budget airline, Bonza, and regional carrier Rex Airlines may express interest in flying to New Zealand in the coming years. However, Sobie notes that Qantas, being a relatively conservative airline, may not extensively utilize its regional jets on the Tasman, as it primarily employs them for its profitable domestic network.

While Qantas and Air New Zealand are the main players in the Tasman market, Sobie does not foresee an all-out war between the two giants. Instead, he anticipates competition arising from other players, such as Virgin Australia, Bonza, Rex Airlines, or foreign carriers like Batik Air, which has challenged Air New Zealand on the Auckland-Perth route. Sobie emphasizes that the current high airfares on the Tasman may attract new entrants aiming to disrupt the cozy duopoly and offer more competitive pricing.

In addition to Air New Zealand, foreign airlines like AirAsia X, Latam, and Qatar also operate on the Tasman route via Auckland, introducing some degree of competition.