QANTAS might come to be nicknamed the ''Flying Dragon'' if the airline succeeds in forging a partnership with a big Asian airline to shore up its ailing international service.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has senior executives exploring all options – including a joint venture with a Chinese carrier – to economically reinvigorate its international services by adding new routes.
''We know that joint ventures with British Airways work, so it could include us looking at joint-venture activity with other airlines to give ourselves a bigger network footprint,'' Mr Joyce said.
Advertisement: Story continues below And China looms large on the Qantas radar.
''Last year, 56 million Chinese people travelled abroad, with the Chinese outbound travel market forecast to grow at around 16 per cent per year until 2020.''
Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation analyst Derek Sadubin said there were a range of potential Chinese airline partners: Cathay Pacific, Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines.
But he warned each match-up had complications.
Cathay Pacific (and its subsidiary Dragonair) is in the oneworld global alliance with Qantas, but so far there has been minimal co-operation. Some observers have described what little relationship there is as difficult.
''Interestingly, Qantas do very little with Cathay Pacific, which is very well entrenched in the Chinese market and has a joint venture with Air China,'' Mr Sadubin said. ''It's one they could potentially revisit.''
Air China is in the rival Star Alliance. China Eastern and China Southern are members of the SkyTeam alliance.
''That's not to say they [Qantas] wouldn't look outside their alliance and do something bilaterally that made sense,'' he said.
Hainan Airlines is not in an alliance but Cathay Pacific competes with Hainan group-invested airlines in their home market, he said.
A critical element is the Asian hub a joint-venture partner would deliver for Qantas, Mr Sadubin said.
China Southern has a major hub in Guangzhou and is strong in Beijing, he said. China Eastern has Shanghai as its base.
''The key hubs for Qantas would be Shanghai and Beijing. They've looked at Shanghai in the past as a staging point for services to Europe and it makes sense geographically; Beijing is a bit further north.''
Another added difficulty is securing approval from the communist Chinese government.
''There is still very much central control over aviation in China, which could act as an impediment.''
Mr Joyce warned Qantas faces ''severe limits to growth''.
''If we continue on our current path, there will be a real question mark over the viability of Qantas international. And I have no intention of letting our flagship business decay through lack of action,'' he said.


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