Inquiry hears extra Qatar flights would have cut fares

An inquiry probed what impact Qantas had in the call to deny Qatar Airways extra flights.

An inquiry probed what impact Qantas had in the call to deny Qatar Airways extra flights. Photo: TND

Granting Qatar Airways extra flights into Australia would have delivered cheaper airfares and a $1 billion boost in tourism, an inquiry has heard.

Extra services for Qatar Airways would have led to “favourable effects”, Airline Intelligence and Research chief executive Tony Webber said.

“There will be a material reduction in airfares … somewhere between 7 per cent and 10 per cent,” he told a Senate select committee on Tuesday.

The former Qantas chief economist said there would have been an improvement in inbound tourism, largely from Europe, that could have been worth up to $1 billion.

“There is a material amount of market dominance from Qantas,” Webber said.

Webber’s comments came as Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar al-Baker made his first public comments on the Albanese government’s decision to block the increase in flights.

“We found it to be very unfair [for] our legitimate request to be not granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia,” he told CNN on Sunday (US time), adding that he was “very surprised” .

“[We were] repatriating their stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receive medical supplies and spare parts etc. during the COVID-19 period.

“The national carrier and its partners completely stopped operating in Australia. We were there for the people of Australia.”

Al-Baker said he hoped the Albanese government would listen to Qatar’s case “carefully” before making its ruling. He cited the ongoing Senate inquiry examining the government’s decision as he refused to comment further.

That inquiry held its first public hearing in Sydney on Tuesday.

Webber told it that the Middle Eastern airline was an “exceptionally aggressive competitor”.

“If a new carrier encroaches on its routes, on its market share, then it will aggressively respond,” he said.

Webber said the only commercially viable routes for Qatar after the pandemic were larger markets, including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Qatar Airways blocked over invasive body searches

Representatives from Qatar Airways and Qantas were not listed to appear on Tuesday but have been invited to give evidence.

Transport Minister Catherine King has come under fire for her decision to reject Qatar Airways’ bid to double the 28 weekly services it offers in Australia, after being lobbied by Qantas.

Critics claim the move shields Qantas from competition, but King has maintained the decision was made in the national interest.

She has also given conflicting statements about how much relevance the gave to the detaining of 13 Australian women at Doha’s Hamad International Airport in October 2020, after a baby was found abandoned in a bin.

Qatari authorities, who were searching for the mother, pulled women off several flights at gunpoint. They were led away and forced to undergo invasive examinations.

Marque Lawyers managing partner Michael Bradley, who represents a group of the women, said Qatar Airways was dragging the case out and had made it a “torturous and expensive process”.

“What happened to them was extraordinary and the airline has not answered for it,” he said.

“The airline has never stepped up and clients have been forced to undertake complex and potentially very expensive litigation to try to enforce their rights and seek redress.”

Bradley said his clients want al-Baker to appear before the inquiry.

Opposition transport spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie said she was concerned the women were being used as a “front” for the decision to reject the extra flights.

Qantas has faced a recent storm of disasters, marked by a Senate grilling on its $2.47 billion profit during a cost-of-living crisis and a potential $250 million fine from the consumer watchdog.

The airline lost a High Court appeal, which found it had illegally sacked almost 1700 workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee will hold three more public hearings in Perth, Brisbane and Canberra and will report back by October 9.

-with AAP

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.