A decision to block Qatar Airways from operating additional flights to Australia to protect Qantas’ profitability has been slammed by domestic rival Virgin.
The federal government blocked the Middle Eastern carrier from adding 28 additional flights per week into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane after lobbying from the national carrier.
Virgin Australia chief Jayne Hrdlicka said if Qatar – a partner carrier of Virgin – were to be given the go-ahead, it could cut international airfares by as much as 40 per cent.
“The statistics say that two-thirds of the seats that were flying in and out of Australia pre-Covid are back and one-third of those seats are not yet back,” she told ABC’s Radio National.
“So if we get those seats back, airfares will be as low as they possibly could be.”
The decision to knock back Qatar’s request has proven to be controversial, with the government facing criticism for knocking back competition in the aviation sector.
Outgoing Qantas chief Alan Joyce admitted during a two-hour senate grilling on Monday that the airline had lobbied the government to block the Qatar request.
On Monday, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones acknowledged that the move could have cut prices but it risked making the market “unsustainable for the existing Australian-based carrier.”
Qantas posted a full-year pre-tax profit result of $2.47bn.
Ms Hrdlicka said the Assistant Treasurer’s comments were “disappointing”.
“I’m sure that every CEO in the country was disappointed to hear that there’s one company in the country that should be protected, and profits should be protected,” she said.
“I’m not sure what it was actually intended by the statement, but … I don’t think the government had the full facts.
“I’m surprised to hear that the basis for the decision would be to protect Qantas profits because … it’s just super surprising and very disappointing if that was the case.”
Ms Hrdlicka said she had sought a number of meetings with the government but had not heard back.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said it was not the government’s job to “automatically make Qantas profitable”.
“Of course, we want to see the national carrier be profitable and for it not to need government intervention or bailing out, but there’s no transparency around the basis upon which the government formed this decision,” he told Sky News.