The Assistant Minister for Competition has called on Qatar Airways to resume services to Canberra.
Speaking to Adam Shirley on ABC Radio this week, Dr Andrew Leigh reiterated the government’s line that allowing extra Qatar flights into major airports was “not in the national interest”, but urged the Middle Eastern carrier to bring back flights to the nation’s capital.
Qatar – which operated flights to Canberra via Sydney before the pandemic, first starting in February 2018 – remains barred from increasing its services from Doha to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth under Australian bilateral air service agreements, but is permitted to fly as many services as it likes to smaller airports like Canberra.
“In an environment in which we have more than 3000 international movements a week … a dozen flights from Qatar is significant but it’s not the only factor in airline competition. I’d love to see Qatar flying directly into Canberra,” said Dr Leigh.
“After the Minister’s decision, they decided to up their number of movements into Adelaide, where they’re unrestricted. They’re also unrestricted from more movements into Canberra. They were flying out of Canberra for a period, then they stopped during the pandemic and they haven’t returned.”
When asked about increasing international competition into Australia, Dr Leigh pointed to the government’s recent decision to allow Turkish Airlines 21 flights per week into major airports, which led Türkiye’s flag carrier to announce services to Melbourne starting in March.
“That’ll go up to 35 flights a week by next year. We’re looking at ways of improving airline competition, I know there was a lot of publicity around the Qatar decision last year. We’re very concerned to ensure that Australia has a vibrant, competitive market,” he said.
Canberra Airport currently hosts only one international service: a Fiji Airways route to Nadi which launched in July last year.
Neither Qatar Airways nor Singapore Airlines have given a firm indication of when they will resume their pre-pandemic services to Canberra, with Qatar having pushed back the planned resumption of direct services several times.
Qatar Airways, which is permitted 28 weekly flights across Australia’s four major airports, came under some scrutiny last year for its QR988/989 service to Adelaide via Melbourne, with industry sources accusing the carrier of using Adelaide as an endpoint specifically to get around restrictions on Melbourne capacity.
The inbound flight, QR988, has a six-hour layover in Melbourne between 11:30am and 5:35am due to Adelaide Airport’s curfew. Most passengers disembark in Melbourne, with the early Melbourne–Adelaide leg often attracting only single-digit passenger numbers; the airline is not allowed to sell domestic tickets between Melbourne and Adelaide.
Qatar also operates a more popular non-stop flight between Adelaide and Doha, which connects onward to Auckland.