Etihad CEO James Hogan says the Australian market will be among the first to see the carrier's A380s after its deliveries begin in late 2014 or early 2015. The first four routes are likely to comprise London, New York, Sydney and Melbourne, he says.
China Southern is also staking its claim. The carrier operates 31 weekly flights from its Guangzhou hub into the four largest Australian cities, including double dailies to Sydney. During peak times, it also boosts Melbourne service to twice daily, giving it a total of 35 flights.
The Australasia region has been a priority for China Southern as it has ramped up its international operations, says Henry He, the carrier's regional general manager for Australasia. Just three years ago, China Southern only had seven weekly Australian flights, all to Sydney.
This expansion is expected to continue. Including its daily service to Auckland, China Southern has up to 42 flights a week to Australia and New Zealand. It aims to raise this to 55 by the end of 2015.
China Southern markets its Australia-London service as the “Canton Route.” Guangzhou has a geographical advantage versus other hubs that link Sydney and London, the carrier says, as the Guangzhou route is slightly shorter than those that connect in Singapore or Dubai.
China Eastern Airlines and Air China also operate to Australia, although to a far lesser extent than China Southern.
Other Asian carriers have much more significant roles in the Australia-Europe one-stop market, adding to the range of connecting points. Cathay Pacific Airways is one of the strongest, with 77 weekly flights to six Australian cities from Hong Kong, including three flights a day to both Sydney and Melbourne.
Malaysia Airlines has 49 weekly flights to five Australian cities from Kuala Lumpur, and it intends to introduce A380 service on its Sydney route beginning in November. Thai Airways, meanwhile, has up to 38 flights a week to four Australian cities from Bangkok.
Despite the length of the routes, the Australia-Europe market has attracted some low-cost carrier (LCC) interest. Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia X operated flights to London for three years and Paris for one year, which connected to its Australian services. However, it suspended both European flights earlier this year. High fuel costs, increasing taxes and fees and the Eurozone crisis all contributed to the demise of these flights, says AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman-Rani.
The carrier will likely look at resuming European flights in the future, but probably not in the next few years, Osman-Rani says. He believes the Airbus A350s that AirAsia has on order will be perfect for Kangaroo-route flights. AirAsia X was flying A340-300s to Europe, and while this was viable with fuel at $80-90 a barrel, it would not work with current prices, says Osman-Rani.