The West

Airline fell asleep over services to WA
Qantas boss Alan Joyce. Picture: Rob Duncan

It is extraordinary that Qantas no longer flies internationally from Perth - the capital of the State that is the engine room of Australia.

And when you consider that traffic through Perth has grown an average of 9 per cent a year for the past 50 years it is almost unbelievable.

But on Sunday it became fact with the last of the regular daily Perth-to-Singapore services.

Qantas' withdrawal from international services from WA - aside from code share and Jetstar - has been as spectacular as it is saddening.

In the past few years the airline has quit Tokyo, Hong Kong and finally Singapore.

At various times it also served other Asian destinations such as Kuala Lumpur and Bali.

Though the lower cost and greater in-flight product offering from Asian airlines are the major reasons, the wrong planes, slow introduction of seat-back videos and a Sydney-centric focus has not helped.

Perhaps if Qantas' 787s had been delivered as per the original schedule from mid-2008, things may have been different. And certainly if Qantas had bought 777s, it would have had greater flexibility.

Last month, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce touted the airline's commitment to WA and certainly from a domestic standpoint it is committed, but dig deeper and there are missed opportunities. Speaking at a WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry event, Mr Joyce said the Qantas group today had a bigger presence in WA than ever.

"We operate more than 500 flights per week serving WA, with 13 destinations around the State - and that's not to mention our growing charter business," he said. "We connect WA to 58 international destinations through Emirates, Jetstar and our Oneworld partners.

"And we will continue to operate seasonal international flights on routes like Perth-Singapore and Perth-Auckland. We've ramped up our domestic network within WA, working in partnership with the mining sector and through our subsidiary, Network Aviation, Qantas has become the market leader in fly-in, fly-out charters."

The reality is that Qantas' previous head office management was asleep in the cockpit when it comes to WA.

In 2008, the then frustrated Qantas State manager asked for a collection of photos taken showing the early morning chaos on the tarmac at its domestic terminal to convince head office that something needed to be done.

As a result, the terminal was almost doubled in capacity.

And it is true that Network with 10 Fokker 100s has become the biggest FIFO operator out of Perth with a 30 per cent market share but Qantas should have made this move 20 years ago.

The stark reality is that Qantas' performance in WA is a snapshot of the airline's and the country's wider problems.

Qantas is simply not competitive right now with most of its rivals, either internationally or domestically.

Mr Joyce is striving to undo the numerous mistakes of the past and right the ship but will he have enough time?

Unions have flagged they will fight every inch of the way against change which just plays into the hand of competitors.

And certainly when Virgin Australia's partner Etihad starts connecting Perth to the world in July, the airline's frequent flyers will have a superb Middle East connection, which will take European traffic away from the Qantas-Emirates combination.

Clearly Qantas and Mr Joyce face tough challenges but the toughest maybe to keep Australians' loyalty.

The West Australian

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