Why Does Qatar Airways Operate Near-Empty Flights Between Adelaide & Melbourne?

Estimated read time 4 min read


  •  Qatar Airways operates a ghost flight from Adelaide to Melbourne, a route that doesn’t make sense for most passengers as they would never choose to have a layover in Melbourne.
  •  Qatar Airways found a loophole in the bilateral air agreement with Australia, allowing them to operate additional flights to Melbourne by originating the flight in Adelaide.
  •  Despite the additional carbon emissions caused by this ghost flight, Qatar Airways considers it worth it due to the potential profits of an additional service to Melbourne.


In the early hours of the morning, at 05:35 local time to be precise, a Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER departs from Australia’s Adelaide International Airport (ADL). But this is no ordinary Qatar Airways service. You would naturally expect this flight to be heading towards Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH), the airline’s sole mega hub.

But you would be wrong. This flight is headed for Melbourne Airport (MEL), the second busiest in Australia, where, after a brief layover, the aircraft will take off again, this time bound for Doha. This is an oddity for the average aviation enthusiast, but not one to be surprised by. Carriers around the globe operate unique fifth freedom services.


What Is A Fifth Freedom Flight?

But this isn’t a fifth freedom flight; it’s a bizarre ghost flight unlike anything else. Let’s take a look at Qatar’s daily ghost flight from Adelaide to Melbourne and the bizarre set of circumstances that led to its creation.

Not a fifth freedom service

While defining why Qatar flies a bizarre empty flight between Adelaide and Melbourne is difficult, explaining why this flight isn’t like a normal fifth freedom flight is actually relatively easy. For starters, passengers are unable to purchase tickets between Adelaide and Melbourne, as Australia hasn’t granted Qatar Airways fifth freedom rights in this circumstance. Passengers are only permitted to book itineraries between Adelaide and Doha.

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER departing Bangkok, Thailand

Photo: Suparat Chairatprasert | Shutterstock

Furthermore, Qatar Airways flies directly between Adelaide and Doha, making this flight essentially useless as the typical passenger would never pay extra to have an unnecessary and lengthy layover in Melbourne. This ghost flight is simply not categorizable as a fifth freedom service would be.

Diplomacy and loopholes

According to documents from the Australian Parliament, Qatar Airways was limited to only flying 28 frequencies per week to Australia’s four largest airports. This included Sydney (SYD), Melbourne (MEL), Brisbane (BNE) and Perth (PER). However, it is not limited on the number of services it can operate to secondary destinations within Australia.

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Qatar Airways was clearly not thrilled with this allocation, as the airline had ideally hoped for more slots per week. However, as the terms of a bilateral air agreement are non-negotiable, Qatar had to get tricky in order to provide more service to these airports.

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER

Photo: Steve Worner | Shutterstock

The airline sat down, got creative, and managed to find a carve-out that allowed it to operate additional services to Melbourne. By originating the flight in Adelaide (even though almost no passengers would ever fly from there), the service didn’t count as one of Qatar’s weekly frequencies, allowing them to fly an additional profit-yielding service.

But at what cost?

Qatar has clearly done the math and realized that the cost of operating an additional empty service to Adelaide is worth it due to the high potential profits of an additional Melbourne service. Unsurprisingly, tickets from Adelaide to Doha via Melbourne are far more expensive than direct routings.

A Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER in oneworld Livery flying in the sky.

Photo: Phuong D. Nguyen | Shutterstock

The greatest cost that everyone is responsible for, however, is the additional carbon emitted by these ghost flights. By flying a Boeing 777 an unnecessary 800 miles, tons of carbon dioxide are emitted that would otherwise not enter the atmosphere.

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