A new Qatar Airways Airbus A350.
Qatar Airways says Canberra's decision to block extra flights to Australia is "very unfair". Image by AP PHOTO
  • politics

Qatar chief breaks silence on decision to block flights

Jacob Shteyman September 17, 2023

Qatar Airways has branded the Albanese government’s decision to block additional flights to Australia “very unfair” after the airline helped get Australians home during the pandemic.

Federal Transport Minister Catherine King denied a request from the gulf state carrier to double its 28 weekly services to Australia amid Qantas opposition.

Analysts have said the extra Qatar Airways flights would have increased competition and lowered airfares if granted.

The airline’s chief executive Akbar al Baker broke his silence on Saturday, telling CNN he was “very surprised” the rights were blocked.

“We found it to be very unfair, our legitimate request to be not granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia,” he said.

Qatar has been praised for maintaining flights into and out of Australia during the pandemic, even when domestic carriers stopped flying.

“(We were) repatriating stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receiving medical supplies and spare parts, etc, during the COVID period when the national carrier and their partners completely stopped operating in Australia. 

“We were there for the people of Australia.”

The comments come before a Senate committee this week holds an inquiry into why the additional flights were blocked.

Committee chair Bridget McKenzie slammed Ms King for refusing to release documents detailing the government’s decision.

“It is shocking that Transport Minister Catherine King waited until parliament rose to tell us that she will now not be disclosing advice from her department on why she blocked more Qatar Airways flights based on ‘public interest immunity’,” Senator McKenzie said on Friday.

Ms King has previously offered a range of rationales behind the decision to decline Qatar’s request, including invasive body searches conducted on Australian women at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, reducing emissions and protecting the national interest.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the minister had to weigh up everyone’s interests, not just a particular commercial operation sponsored by another government.

“Everyone obviously wants cheaper airfares, but I don’t think that it’s as simple as just saying, ‘well that’s going to be accomplished overnight with giving the Qatari government what they want when they turn up’,” he told Sky News on Sunday.