Cathay Pacific will boost its capacity on routes to Australia early next year when it starts direct flights to Adelaide and Cairns, in a further challenge to Qantas and alliance partner Emirates.
The Hong Kong flag carrier said its latest move was designed to capture a greater share of the inbound Chinese tourism market, which would be helped by it starting direct services to the two cities.
At present, the airline flies to Cairns and Adelaide on triangular routes via Brisbane and Melbourne respectively, which is an irritant for passengers who prefer non-stop flights.
Cathay is operating a maximum of 70 flights a week between Australia’s four major airports, including Sydney and Melbourne, allowed a under bilateral air rights agreement.
However, it is able to get around this roadblock because there is not a cap on flights to Cairns and Adelaide under the existing agreement between Australia and Hong Kong.
Under the new schedule, Cathay will effectively increase the number of weekly flights between Australia and Hong Kong from 70 to 74 from next March.
The airline will operate four direct flights a week to both Cairns and Adelaide.
All of Cathay’s 21 flights to Melbourne will now be non-stop to Hong Kong.
The airline’s chief executive-in-waiting, Ivan Chu, last month said the airline wanted to increase services here but first needed the government to lift the cap on the number of flights it can operate here.
Any lift in the cap would have to be agreed by the Australian and Hong Kong governments.
Singapore Airlines has also ramped up capacity to Adelaide over the last year with it now flying 12 times a week to the state capital. Qantas does not operate direct services from Adelaide to Asia.
Cathay’s regional general manager, Dominic Perret, said the non-stop services from Hong Kong to both Cairns and Adelaide would help encourage more Chinese tourists to visit Australia.
‘‘We think there is huge potential for inbound tourism here, especially from China,’’ he said. ‘‘China is going to be a huge growth story over the next decade.’’
Mr Perret said direct flights would also appeal to Australian passengers, especially corporate travellers.