The controversial decision made by the Australian government to deny Qatar Airways’ request to virtually increase the number of flights it operates to Australia will be the topic of discussion when Australian bureaucrats meet with their counterparts in Qatar.
The Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA), which submitted the proposal for an additional 28 weekly flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, revealed this week in the proceedings of a Senate committee that they had requested talks with the Australian Department of Infrastructure and Transport.
On August 16th, the QCAA issued a statement saying that it “officially requested consultations… to better understand the reasons for their decision and to work together with the Department [of Infrastructure and Transport] to build a road map for future enhancements of traffic rights.”
The Quality Control and Assurance Association of Canada (QCAA) stated in a submission, “We sincerely hope that the department will agree to schedule consultations as a matter of urgency and priority,”
According to the Qatari regulator, “no other carrier in the GCC region is subject to such stringent conditions and requirements regarding fair competition in Australia.”
At a hearing held by the Senate select committee on bilateral air service agreements on Wednesday – which was set up to investigate the denial of the request made by Qatar – executives from Qatar Airways stated that the QCAA was still waiting for the department to schedule such meetings. The session was held to investigate the denial of the request made by Qatar.
A representative for the Department of Infrastructure and Transport informed the Guardian Australia that the department had received the request from the QCAA and that “consultations are provided for under our current air services arrangements.”
According to a statement released by the Department of State, “The department has notified Qatar that it is considering the request and will contact the Qatar CAA seeking to arrange a meeting at a time that is mutually convenient.”
In accordance with the rules outlined in the most recent air services agreement, it is anticipated that the department will get in touch with the QCAA prior to October 25 in order to set up the meeting.
Both Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) are hopeful that the meeting would shed light on the reasons why Qatar Airways’ request for more services was denied.
“The decision of the Australian government to deny our request for permission to operate additional flights to Australia came as a complete and total surprise to our company. Even more shocking was the fact that the government provided us no justification for denying our application,” Matt Raos, the senior vice president of worldwide sales for Qatar Airways, stated during a Senate hearing on Wednesday in Canberra, Australia.
At the investigation, Fathi Atti, senior vice president of aeropolitical and corporate affairs for Qatar Airways, expressed his belief that the request for additional flights had “been unfairly rejected.”
Jayne Hrdlicka, the CEO of Virgin, testified before the Senate committee that she learned about the decision by the Australian government to ban its partner airline Qatar Airways from extending flights to Australia via the media. She also stated that the order lacked any “coherent logic” and was against the national interest.
Hrdlicka further reported to the committee that the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, did not disclose the decision to her during their conversation on July 13 – three days after the transport minister, Catherine King, had made the decision. This information was relayed to the committee by Hrdlicka.
During the proceedings that took place on Wednesday, the chief executive of Qantas, Vanessa Hudson, stated that it was “an important part of democracy” that the facts of a plea that Qantas gave to the government in 2022 to oppose extra air rights for Qatar Airways be kept confidential. Hudson made this statement in reference to the fact that Qantas sent the government the petition.
In addition, Hudson restated the claims that her predecessor, Alan Joyce, had made, namely that the expansion of Qatar Airways would cause a disruption in the aviation market when the proposal was first made in October of 2022.
However, Hudson, who began her appearance by restating a public apology, consistently sidestepped queries that inquired whether or not Qantas’ attitude had shifted in light of the significant rebound that the aviation market has achieved since the time of her visit. She also claimed that Qantas’ resistance was not motivated by a desire to improve its own financial situation in any way.
“[In October 2022], the worldwide market had not yet recovered from the effects of Covid, and our submission referred to that fact. Despite this, Qatar was awarded a 200% increase in traffic rights, despite the fact that the market hadn’t yet restored to 100%. According to Hudson, “We believed that it was important that the market returned to its previous level of 100% before we made any structural changes.”
The general counsel for Hudson and Qantas, Andrew Finch, granted permission for the October 2022 submission that the airline prepared to be handed to the committee in a redacted version, providing that it was not made publicly available. The submission was created by the airline.
According to Finch, this is because of a “desire to ensure that corporates and individuals feel comfortable when they make submissions to the government on matters of these things and particularly when they’re invited to do so that their submissions are kept confidential.” Finch stated that this is because of the “desire to ensure that corporates and individuals feel comfortable when they make submissions to the government on matters of these things.”
When Senator Simon Birmingham asked if it would make a version of the submission public, Hudson endorsed Finch’s reasons for not wanting the submission to be made public, saying “we think that that’s an important part of democracy” in response to the question.
Richard Goyder, the embattled board chairman of Qantas, has rejected calls for him to resign from his position due to the reputational harm created by several crises that led to the downfall of Alan Joyce, the airline’s former chief executive officer.
Goyder stated in front of the committee that “[Major Shareholders] are very strongly supporting me staying,” and he continued, “I would also argue that my history in business has been one of high ethics, looking to create value for all of our stakeholders.”
“I’ve led a company successfully through the global financial crisis, and I chaired Qantas during the most existential crisis we’ve ever faced as an airline,” he said. And at this time, the board of directors as well as the key shareholders feel that I am the best person to chair the board in order to steer us through the current predicament.