SYDNEY — Two Airbus A380s made a dramatic tandem flight over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Sunday to launch the new Qantas-Emirates partnership, hailed by the Australian carrier as a "seismic shift" in aviation.
The tie-up, approved last week by Australia’s competition watchdog, allows the two airlines to combine operations for an initial period of five years, including co-ordinating ticket prices and schedules.
It will also see Qantas switch its hub for European flights from Singapore to Emirates’ Dubai base as it attempts to turn around its struggling international business.
"Dubai is the best hub for Qantas in the 21st century," the company’s chief executive Alan Joyce said after watching the flyover by superjumbos from both airlines at 450m over Sydney’s famous landmark.
"It is eight hours’ flying time from 75% of the world’s population." At a press conference with the president of Emirates Tim Clark, Mr Joyce said the partnership would offer huge benefits to customers in terms of network and frequent flyer benefits, cutting flight times to top European destinations.
"This is one of the biggest days in Qantas’s 92-year history.
That’s because this partnership will play a critical role for us into the future," Mr Joyce said.
"This joint network with Emirates is a key part of tackling the structural challenges that Qantas International is faced with. But more than that ... it is a seismic shift in global aviation." Mr Clark said the stitching together of the airlines’ services had created a "game-changing partnership" providing "one of the most formidable aviation networks in the world today".
Qantas said the feat by the two super-jumbos is thought to be the first time anywhere in the world that two commercial airline A380s have flown in formation.
Pilots from both airlines completed dozens of special simulator training sessions, with Emirates pilots travelling Down Under this month to train in Qantas’s A380 simulator.
The alliance is seen as vital to the sustainability of Qantas, which last year posted its first annual deficit since privatisation in 1995 due to tougher competition and high fuel costs for its international arm.
With services to Asia no longer tied to onward links to Europe, Qantas has said that it is also considering new direct destinations from Australia, including Beijing, Seoul, Mumbai, Delhi and Tokyo-Haneda.
Australia’s Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said he believed the arrangement would benefit Qantas and Emirates, but also passengers.
"We know that the impact of this will be significant, the impact in terms of opening up opportunities for Australian businesses and recreational travellers to reach destinations with one stop across Europe and across northern Africa," he said, adding there would also be benefits for Australian tourism.
The first Qantas flights departing from Sydney and Melbourne to London via the international hub of Dubai are due to leave on Sunday.