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Competition over international flights as Qatar prepares to launch

Airlines are pulling out all stops to woo Canberra travellers, as a second international carrier prepares to fly to the Australian capital for the first time.

Singapore Airlines this week announced it would bump up its flights to Canberra ahead of Qatar Airways launching daily flights to the ACT on February 12.

Singapore Airlines' new daily service will begin on May 1, and like Qatar Airways' Canberra flights, will include a 70-minute stop at Sydney. The Wellington to Canberra link was severed as part of the route restructure.

But Singapore Airlines will also switch the Boeing 777-200 it uses for the route to a Boeing 777-300ER, which will allow Canberrans to fly first class and premium economy for the first time.

Of the 264 seats in the plane, four will be first class, 48 business class, 28 premium economy and 184 economy class.

Singapore Airlines regional vice-president Philip Goh said the aircraft upgrade was justified given the extra patronage expected from the Sydney stop.

Qatar Airways will also fly a Boeing 777-300 to Canberra, but with a total of 358 seats. Forty-two will be in business class while 316 seats will be in economy.

However Qatar Airways Australasia senior manager, Adam Radwanski said the airline will use a Boeing-777 equipped with its special Qsuite for the inaugural flight into Canberra.

The Qsuite will eventually become a permanent feature on the Canberra route.

"Patented by Qatar Airways, the Qsuite features the industry's first-ever double bed available in business class and private cabins for up to four people with privacy panels that stow away, allowing passengers in adjoining seats to create their own private room, a first of its kind in the industry," Mr Radwanski said.

"Adjustable panels and movable TV monitors on the centre four seats allow colleagues, friends or families travelling together to transform their space into a private suite, allowing them to work, dine and socialise together. These new features provide the ultimate customisable travel experience that enables passengers to create an environment that suits their own unique needs."

Through Qatar Airways, Canberrans will be able to to fly to 150 cities around the world from its hub at Hamad International Airport.

Currently through Singapore Airlines, travellers can fly to 64 destinations through its Changi Airport hub.

While the choice with Qatar is greater, Singapore is much closer to Australia.

The flight from Canberra to Doha will take about 17 hours and 45 minutes, including the Sydney stop. The flight from Singapore to Canberra will take 9 hours, 50 minutes with the new stop at Sydney.

However if you're heading on to Europe or the UK, your connecting flight will be far shorter if you travel with Qatar Airways.

Flying into London's Heathrow Airport from Qatar takes around 7 hours and 25 minutes while flying from Singapore takes 12 hours and 55 minutes.

Singapore Airlines said most of their Canberra passengers were headed to South-East Asia, while Mr Radwanski said most of Qatar Airways' Australian travellers went on to Europe.

"Among Australians, there is strong appetite for travel to Europe. We see similar demand and interest in our extensive European network among Canberra-based travellers," Mr Radwanski said.

Mr Radwanski said their top route among Australians was to London, with flights from $1330 in economy and $6855 in business class.

The city of love was the next most popular destination for Aussies, with flights to Paris from $1250 in economy and $6655 in business.

Dublin (from $1195 economy, $6655 business). Athens (from $1220 economy, $6560 business) and Zagreb (from $1215 economy, $6555 business) also rated as top destinations for Australians flying Qatar Airways.

Mr Radwanski said these were special launch fares to celebrate the introduction of the new service to and from Canberra.

However Mr Radwanski said the airline was known for its "competitive pricing".

Mr Goh said Singapore Airlines was not averse to a little competition either.

Currently, an economy flight from Canberra to London through Singapore costs about $1700 economy, and upwards of $7500 for business class.

Mr Goh said their route restructure was not prompted by Qatar Airways' entry into the market.

"We develop our routes based on customer feedback and based on what we see in the market development over the last many months and we believe these changes will further grow the market for our service," Mr Goh said.

"We are confident and we always deal with competition as they come and so we will operate our service and compete in the market as we always do."

Source: Canberra Times

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