Thursday, June 23, 2011

Qantas overlooks Victora

THE backlog of tens of thousands of passengers stranded by flight cancellations due to the Chilean volcanic plume is set to grow in Tasmania and New Zealand today, where the airspace remains choked by ash.

As Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin resumed services across the Australian mainland yesterday, services to Tasmania and New Zealand continued to be grounded as the plume drifted east across the Tasman Sea.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said the ash would remain over Tasmania until late this afternoon, while New Zealand could be shrouded for the next 24 hours.

The main airlines have cancelled flights to Tasmania and NZ until at least 10am today.

Qantas cancelled about 200 flights yesterday, bringing to about 50,000 the number of travellers who have been affected over two days.

Virgin cancelled 166 flights, affecting 13,500 people, while Tiger Airways axed 24 flights, affecting 3500 passengers.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the cancellation of flights had cost $21 million so far but said the airline valued its reputation for safety more than profits. ''We will not put passengers' safety at risk,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Joyce flagged big changes to international operations. But the plans will not end Melbourne's second-class status in the Qantas line-up.

In a preview of changes to be revealed in August, Mr Joyce indicated that Qantas planned to start flying routes within Asia, as well as to Asia, in a joint venture that observers believe could be based in Singapore.

Addressing the National Press Club, Mr Joyce said Qantas had lost about $200 million on its international operations in 2010-11, and had to restructure. He said it would focus more on alliances with other airlines and ''cast a ruthless eye over'' non-performing routes.

While declaring his own love of Melbourne, the Qantas chief held out no prospect of operating more foreign services out of Australia's second biggest city.

Qantas and its offshoots operate only 12 overseas flights a day from Melbourne, against 35 from Sydney.

Mr Joyce said Qantas had tried to improve services from Melbourne, but said: ''It doesn't have the premium traffic that Sydney has ? It doesn't have the international traffic that Sydney has, because Sydney is where the international tourists want to go.''

Recent figures, however, show foreign tourists increasingly are going to Melbourne - on airlines other than Qantas.

In the past 10 years the number of foreign tourists spending most of their time in Victoria jumped by 458,000, while the number based in Sydney dropped by 62,000.