It’s simple route evolution – Qantas for the first time links the Northern Territory’s capital with its, and perhaps Australia’s, most iconic attraction

5 April, 2019

The success of a new twice weekly connection by Qantas between Darwin and Uluru will be as much about convenience as the local demand within the Northern Territory for the new route, the first time the region's capital has been linked with its, and perhaps Australia's, most iconic attraction.

One of the great natural wonders of the world, Uluru, or Ayers Rock, towers above the surrounding landscape. The massive sandstone monolith is found in the heart of the Northern Territory's arid 'Red Centre' and for the local Aboriginal people, the Anangu, it has held a special cultural significance and is thought to date back around 550 million years.

The introduction this week of twice weekly flights into Ayres Rock airport from both Adelaide and Darwin is to support a growing demand for travel to Uluru from international and interstate tourists and follows growth in capacity on existing flights from Melbourne and Sydney. The two new routes are being operated by Boeing 737-800 equipment, configured with 12 business class and 162 economy seats, and will be flown year-around.

"We're seeing more demand for travel to Uluru from international and interstate tourists than we have seen in a long time," says Andrew David, CEO, Qantas Domestic. "We're committed to working closely with tourism bodies, hotels, tour operators and airports to get behind these routes, continuing to drive demand, not just to Uluru, but across all parts of the Territory."

While the sector between Darwin and Uluru will secure local demand, Qantas is likely to see a notable level of connecting traffic from Asia and Europe with the new flight shaving up to five hours of journeys to Uluru via the southern gateways of Melbourne and Sydney. The savings are significant with travel time from and to Singapore between 41% and 78% shorter via Darwin. For journeys originating in Shenzhen, travel distance saved is equivalent to 68% of the previously-travelled distance.

The majority (57%) of international travellers visiting Uluru come by air, but only 3% presently arrive via the Northern Territory capital of Darwin. Many visitors access the natural landmark via Sydney (47% arriving; 53% departing) and Melbourne (25% arriving; 17% departing). The success in converting these existing less efficient itineraries to connect via Darwin in the future will ultimately prove the critical factor in achieving sustainable loads on the route.

The recent announcement by Jetstar Asia that it is increasing its five times weekly service from Singapore to Darwin to daily between 16-Apr-2019 and 22-Jul-2019 will certainly help facilitate a switch of travel habits. In fact, a new collaboration of inbound tourism wholesalers, Darwin International airport, Qantas and Jetstar Asia are already working together to create new itineraries through Darwin and onto Uluru and Alice Springs that are promoted in key Asian markets.

As well as providing enhanced opportunities for leisure travellers wishing to visit Uluru, the new connection is hoped to attract both international and interstate conference incentive groups. "The direct flights from Darwin to Uluru will give both locals and international tourists some extra options when planning their visit to the 'Red Centre'. For many Territorians who have never visited Uluru, this is a great chance for them to tick it off their bucket list," explains Ian Kew, CEO of NT Airports.

CHART - Qantas is the largest operator at Darwin International airport with a 35% share of weekly system seatsSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 01-Apr-2019)

Qantas is Darwin's largest carrier, currently offering nearly 9,000 seats and 51 direct flights weekly from the city, spread across seven domestic destinations (existing services to Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney). The introduction of the Uluru service means Darwin International is now linked to 18 Australian destinations with 164 weekly flights flown by five local carriers.

Alongside the Qantas link to Uluru, Airnorth this week added a twice-weekly service from Darwin to Gold Coast (via Townsville). Next week, Virgin Australia launches a three times weekly service from Darwin to Denpasar and later this month Jetstar Asia boosts its Darwin-Singapore service from five times weekly to daily. The route expansion continues into early May when Airnorth introduces a twice-weekly service from Darwin to Perth (via Kununurra).