The chief executive of Qatar Airways has admitted that the airline is facing difficulties and financial strain from continuing to operate flights between Doha and Australia because of strict quotas on the number of passengers allowed on services to the country. Akbar Al Baker says there is a “massive amount of Australians” wanting to fly with Qatar Airways back home but some flights are allowed to carry just 30 passengers because of rules imposed by the Australian government.
It’s currently estimated that over 100,000 Australians are stranded outside of their home country and nearly 20,000 have a confirmed booking but are currently waiting for space to become available on a flight. At present, anyone entering Australia must go into mandatory hotel quarantine for 14-days.
But the authorities have imposed caps on the number of international arrivals to prevent government-run quarantine facilities becoming overwhelmed. Flights to Brisbane are restricted to just 25 passengers, while flights to both Sydney and Perth are only allowed up to 50 passengers per aircraft.
Due to lockdown restrictions in the state of Victoria, passengers aren’t currently permitted to enter Melbourne at all.
“We have massive amount of Australians that want to go back to Australia but because of the quota we are having difficulty,” Al Baker explained on Wednesday. “However, we make sure that we continue the operation even though we have strain on the costs that we incur to go such a long flight,” he continued.
The reason that Qatar Airways doesn’t want to follow the lead of Qantas and Virgin Australia in suspending international flights to and from Australia is simple – it hopes to woo the Australian government and win additional flying rights to the country.
At present, the Air Services Agreement between the state of Qatar and Australia limits Qatar Airways to just 21 weekly flights between Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Qatar Airways has previously chosen to reward its allocation to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
“We hope that the government of Australia, the Deputy Prime Minister that is in charge of transportation, will consider our request for a reasonable increase,” Al Baker told the CAPA aviation conference on Wednesday.
Taking a snipe at Emirates, Al Baker continued: “We don’t want to come five times a day to Sydney and five times a day to Melbourne and connect Auckland to Melbourne and Sydney, and go four times a day to Perth.”
“We are reasonable and we want to serve the people of Australia.”
The agreement between Australia and the United Arab Emirates allows for 168 weekly flights between the two countries, giving both Emirates and Etihad Airways a significant advantage over Qatar Airways.
Al Baker has previously criticised Qantas for lobbying to prevent any increase in its weekly quota of flights. Qantas has a joint venture with Emirates. But during Wednesday’s conference, Al Baker attempted to win the support of Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
Calling Joyce his friend, Al Baker said he had offered to work with Qantas. “Unfortunately, maybe Alan is in a predicament because he has a long-term understanding or agreement with Emirates,” Al Baker said. “But we are open, we are ready to work as part of both an alliance, and an operator into the Australian market.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.