Qatar Airways boss calls blocking “very unfair”

Qatar Airways boss calls blocking “very unfair”
Edited by Travel Weekly

    The head of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, revealed that he was “surprised” by the Australian government’s recent decision to block the Middle Eastern carrier’s bid for additional capacity.

    Qatar Airways was looking to double its flights into hubs such as Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth from the Middle East.

    The Federal Government sought out the opinion of Qantas as part of Qatar Airways’ application process for bilateral air rights. Qantas opposed the bid on the grounds that it would cause Australian job losses

    Speaking to CNN on the weekend, Al Baker said the controversial blocking was “unfair”, especially considering all the airline did for Australia over the pandemic.

    “But we found it very unfair, our legitimate request not to be granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia [by] repatriating the stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receive medical supplies and spare parts, etcetera, etcetera,” Al Baker said.

    “During the COVID period when the national carrier and their partners completely stopped operating [in] Australia, we were there for the people of Australia.”

    Boeing 777 wearing QATAR Airlines colour scheme, arriving late afternoon at Kingsford Smith airport, with the city Skyline in the background (iStock/Boeing746)

    His comments come after the Qatar government received a letter from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development on 14 July, telling them that the request for additional capacity had been denied, the Australian Financial Review reported.

    This letter was dated one day after Jayne Hrdlicka, the head of Qatar Airway’s codeshare partner, Virgin Australia, lobbied Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The letter contained no reason for the blocking and was not signed by transport minister Catherine King.

    The decision to block Qatar, which came from King herself, will be the subject of an upcoming senate inquiry where representatives from Qatar Airways will be called to give evidence.

    The senate inquiry has hit a pothole as King, who has taken two weeks leave, withheld documents regarding the decision from parliament, citing public interest immunity.

    King responded to a Senate order for the production of documents regarding the decision, saying that disclosing this information could reveal sensitive details about Qatar-Australia relations.

    “As the government has made clear, air services agreements are not commercial arrangements but treaty-level agreements between countries,” King said.

    “The production of documents falling within the scope of these orders would, or might reasonably be expected to, disclose the nature of bilateral relations with Australia’s foreign partners that we have given undertakings to protect.

    “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. As such, I claim public interest immunity over documents subject to the orders.”

    The transport minister will now go on leave for two weeks, which was organised months ago, following a difficult few weeks of scrutiny over her decision to block the Middle Eastern carrier.

    This was inflamed by the Labor Government’s links to Qantas, which has become the subject of a reputational tarnishing following an upcoming ACCC investigation, the early resignation of the airline’s boss Alan Joyce and the illegal sacking of nearly 1700 workers during the pandemic.

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