The chief executive of Qatar Airways has called the federal government’s decision to block it launching more services “very unfair”.
Appearing on CNN, Akbar Al Baker added his airline helped repatriate Australians who were stranded during COVID-19 after Qantas all but stopped international flights.
“When the national carrier and their partners completely stopped operating in Australia. We were there for the people of Australia,” he said.
His intervention comes ahead of an upcoming inquiry into the decision that saw the federal government effectively block Qatar’s request to add extra flights to destinations like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
The decision became a major nationwide news story, with industry figures divided on whether it would help or hinder the international recovery from COVID.
Qantas agreed with the move, arguing more Qatar flights would cost Australian jobs, while Qatar codeshare partner Virgin described the decision as “deeply regrettable”.
Transport Minister Catherine King said in response that “no one factor” led to her decision but that it was in the “national interest”.
However, in a twist, Australian Aviation reported last week how Emirates handed the federal government’s position a boost, announcing it is set to switch its 777s for larger A380s on all Sydney services.
It followed King justifying her decision by insisting Qatar could simply switch to bigger aircraft to increase its capacity, a move now undertaken by Emirates.
Emirates is crucially a close codeshare partner of Qantas, and the pair have an ACCC-approved deal to collaborate on services.
The airline also used the announcement to suggest it is not the case that adding extra capacity would automatically lead to lower prices for travellers – seemingly referencing the row of Qatar flights.
In a press release, Barry Brown, Emirates’ divisional VP for Australasia, said that capacity is “only one of several factors” that affect ticket prices.
“Similar to many other sectors, across the aviation industry, our highest operating expenses have surged. There has been a sharp rise in fuel, ground handling, catering, and workforce costs as we try to attract and retain the right talent,” he said.
“Even as more capacity comes back into Australia, airlines, especially those with long-haul services, will continue to face challenges in striking a balance to offset these costs where possible.
“Despite these challenges, we’re committed to strengthening our schedules as much as we can and offering the essential connectivity that Australian travellers have come to know and expect of us.”
The carrier has also indicated plans to resume nonstop services to Adelaide once its A350 fleet enters service next year.
Emirates currently operates 63 weekly Australia services, including flights three times per day to Sydney and Melbourne, twice per day to Brisbane, and daily to Perth. It also flies between Melbourne and Singapore and from Dubai to Christchurch via Sydney.