LONDON: Qatar Airways has branded a decision by Australian authorities not to allow it to run extra flights to and from the country as “very unfair.”
The airline had sought to lay on 21 additional flights, but ministers rejected the proposals, citing national interest as one of the reasons.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker said he was surprised at the decision considering the flag carrier had continued to operate flights during the coronavirus pandemic while Australia’s national airline, Qantas, was grounded.
He noted that the Doha-headquartered airline become a vital link for Australians as a result. Throughout the pandemic, University of Sydney Prof. Rico Merkert even dubbed Qatar Airways Australia’s “de facto international airline.”
Al-Baker told CNN: “We found it to be very unfair for our legitimate request to be not granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia.
“We were repatriating their stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receive medical supplies and spare parts et cetera during the COVID-19 period.
“The national carrier and its partners completely stopped operating in Australia. We were there for the people of Australia,” he said.
Alan Joyce, a former Qantas CEO, said permitting Qatar Airways the extra flights would “distort” the region’s aviation sector.
However, Bridget McKenzie, chair of the Australian Senate’s committee investigating the issue, said Transport Minister Catherine King had failed to provide details as to why Qatar Airways’ request had been denied, accusing Qantas and the government of having a “cosy, personal and political relationship.”
McKenzie’s committee was due to hold public hearings into the decision next week.
King recently said: “There is a public interest in not disclosing such discussions so the government’s negotiations over air services agreements with a range of countries can continue unimpeded.”
Speaking to CNN, Al-Baker added: “We can never influence a government decision, but the fact remains is that we were very surprised for getting these rights blocked or unapproved.”
Several industry players, including Virgin Australia, as well as Australian state politicians, and members of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, have backed Qatar Airways’ bid for more flights with a view to expanding Australia’s aviation industry.
The Guardian reported that some had suggested that doing so could bring down fares and generate as much as $1 billion in new revenue.