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Virgin challenges arguments against increasing Qatar flights

written by Jake Nelson | September 26, 2023

Rob Finlayson shot this Qatar Airways Airbus A380 in Sydney.

Virgin Australia has hit back against talking points from those opposed to expanding Qatar Airways services into Australia’s major airports.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into Australia’s bilateral air rights agreements, the carrier – a codeshare partner of Qatar – questioned the logic behind denying the Middle Eastern airline the right to increase its frequency into Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth from the current 28 flights per week.

Virgin has been a critic of the government’s decision from the start, saying it boosts Qantas and Emirates at their rivals’ expense.

Christian Bennett, chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer at Virgin, said the argument that Qatar could increase its services into other Australian airports outside the major gateways “ignores the commercial and customer reality of supporting Australia’s largest nodes of inbound and outbound passenger demand”.

“Nonetheless, the argument is illuminating in that by calling for more capacity from Qatar into Australia, but just not on the four key ports, it reinforces the perception that the decision to reject QCAA’s request was designed to protect the already dominant position held by the [Qantas-Emirates] partnership,” he wrote.


“What is more perplexing is that this argument is made when Qantas itself has historically had its own distinct preference for international flights from Sydney.

“As the Premier of South Australia recently noted, Qantas has not flown internationally out of Adelaide for a decade.”

Bennett also labelled the argument that Qatar should replace Boeing 777s with A380s on major airport services as “somewhat spurious”, given the carrier already flies A380s into Sydney and Perth.

“Along with the more fuel-efficient two-engine B777s, QR has been investing heavily in a now 57-strong fleet of Airbus 350 (A350) aircraft, one of the most modern and fuel-efficient aircraft in global aviation. As its twin-engine long-haul fleet grows, QR can deliver a superior and more sustainable experience to the Australian aviation industry,” he wrote.

“According to QR, on a typical one-way flight, the A350 saved a minimum of 16 tons of CO2 per block hour compared to its ageing A380 fleet.

“Against the backdrop of Australia’s recently launched Jet Zero Council – not to mention that a number of global airlines are pulling back on returning A380s to service – calls for QR to fly more of its less fuel-efficient eight active A380s to Australia seem misplaced.”

Speaking to reports that the 2020 invasive search incident at Doha Airport was a factor in Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision to block the flights, Bennett noted that the actions of airport security at the time were “nothing short of deplorable”, and acknowledged a Federal Court lawsuit brought by women affected.

“Human rights concerns, particularly those where Australian citizens have been or are involved, should be treated extremely seriously by the Federal Government, and pursued on a sustained basis through appropriate diplomatic channels, as done with respect to this incident by then Foreign Minister Payne and, more recently, by Foreign Minister Wong,” Bennett said.

“However, to impose economic sanctions on Qatar Airways for this specific incident would create a concerning precedent and hold Qatar and an airline to a higher standard than other countries with which Australia holds longstanding human rights concerns, and the national carriers of which fly to Australia.

“Blocking access to more flights for this reason would, in effect, impose upwards of a $1 billion dollar per year penalty on Australian travellers, airports, tourism operators, the hospitality industry and exporters reliant on competitive air freight for the actions in 2020 of Qatari airport security officials.”

Minister King has not given a specific reason for blocking the flights, saying that “no single factor” had led to the decision and that allowing additional frequency was “not in the national interest”.

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