Qatar Airways’ hopes to increase the number of flights into Australia has been rejected by the Federal Government, despite the ongoing surge in post-pandemic travel and a shortage of overall airline capacity keeping international airfares sky-high.
The Gulf carrier, which is a partner to both Qantas and Virgin Australia, currently faces a strict limit on how many flights per week it can offer from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane under a strict “bilateral air rights” agreement with the Australian government.
At the time of writing the schedule stands at double-daily flights from its Doha hub to Melbourne with one daily service from Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
However, the Qatari flag-carrier had been seeking to add 21 flights - or one extra service per day – into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, which would lift it closer to the levels long enjoyed by the likes of Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Emirates.
“I don’t think is a very big ask to the authorities” stated Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker at the time, aiming for a goodwill decision based on the airline continuing to operate international flights to Australia during the pandemic at a time when many international airlines stopped flying.
Al Baker singled out Oneworld sibling Qantas, saying the carrier suspended most international flights except for special repatriation services operated under government subsidy.
But it proved too big an ask for Transport Minister Catherine King, who confirmed overnight “the Australian government is not considering additional bilateral air rights with Qatar.”
This won’t prevent Qatar Airways from adding flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane via “secondary” ports such as Canberra and Adelaide, in a repeat of the pre-pandemic launch of a Doha-Sydney-Canberra route which delivered a second Sydney flight at the cost of an almost-empty jet on the Canberra leg.
The Financial Review notes Qatar’s bid “was understood to have had the support of state premiers keen to see more international tourists return. But another industry source said granting Qatar more landing rights would potentially destabilise the landscape as other airlines return to full capacity.”
Meanwhile, The Australian suggests the proposal faced opposition from Qantas “on the basis it was unfair and would result in the loss of Australian jobs”, noting Qatar Airways’ recent high-profile alliance with Qantas arch-rival Virgin Australia.
When approached by Executive Traveller, Qantas declined to comment.