The controversial decision by the Australian government to deny Qatar Airways additional flying rights to Australia’s four major international gateways has finally been addressed in public by the airline’s chief executive.
Akbar Al Baker, who is frequently outspoken, spoke to Richard Quest on CNN, but he was careful with his words and said he couldn’t say much at the moment because a parliamentary inquiry was going on.
Al Baker did confirm, however, what many had long suspected: The airline anticipated the additional flying rights to be quickly granted in recognition of the fact that Qatar Airways continued to serve Australia throughout the other pandemic while other airlines, including Qantas, abandoned the international market.
The four largest cities in Australia—Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane—are served by 28 weekly flights that Qatar Airways is currently allowed to operate between its hub in Doha and. The airline requested a significant increase in that quota with an additional 21 flights per week, but Transport Minister Catherine King denied the request.
A parliamentary investigation into her choice is currently underway, and amid the controversy, claims have been made that the government has been operating a “protection racket” for flag carrier Qantas.
“I’m always hopeful for the government to listen to our case very carefully and then make a decision. You know, we can never influence a government decision, but the fact remains is that we were very surprised for getting these rights blocked or unapproved, I can say,” Al Baker told Quest.
“There is a parliamentary inquiry, and it is very difficult for me to make any comments. We have full confidence in the government and in the parliament and in the senate of the Australian government, and we will have to wait and see what conclusion they get up to.”
Qatar Airways made a deliberate choice to court Australian lawmakers and the general public at the height of the pandemic. The airline would carry on operating flights in the nation rather than leaving it, but at great expense and in accordance with strict quotas.
“We found it to be very unfair, our legitimate request to not be granted,” Al Baker told Richard Quest. “Especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia, repatriating the stranded citizens from around the world, helping them receive medical supplies and spare parts, etc, etc during the COVID period when the national carrier and their partners completely stopped operating to Australia – we were there for Australia.”
Now that the pandemic is over, it’s looking more and more likely that Qatar Airways will gain at least some additional flying privileges to Australia, though probably not as a result of the airline’s public display of support during the crisis, but rather because of the locals’ rekindled animosity toward flag carrier Qantas.