The way I see it, there is a pretext and a subtext to explore in analyzing the “context” of a recent decision of the Australian government to deny a bid from Qatar Airways to expand service to Australia.
Australia Says It Is Not Protecting Qantas By Denying Qatar Airways The Right To Expand
In October 2020, Qatar sparked international outrage for its invasive search of female passengers, including passengers on an Australia-bound flight, after a baby was found abounded in a trash can in Doha’s Hamad International Airport.
Qatari authorities forced female passengers to strip naked and examined them for signs of recent birth.
Almost three years later, Australia is now saying it has denied Qatar Airways’ bid to expand service to Australia on that basis.
The Qatar flag carrier already operates 28 weekly flights via a bilateral agreement from Doha to:
- Brisbane (BNE)
- Melbourne (MEL)
- Perth (PER)
- Sydney (SYD)
Qatar Airways had requested 21 additional weekly flights, but its application has been rebuffed.
While critics pointed to lobbying efforts by Qantas that torpedoed the expansion, Australian Transport Minister Catherine King has told reporters that the treatment of female Australian passengers in Doha was the “context” for the denial.
“I haven’t pointed to that as one factor. What I have said is that it provides a context for the decision that I made.”
That appeared to contradict a statement she had made on ABC earlier in the day saying that the incident was not a factor.
So what was the reason for the denial?
“In making this decision, I did have a national interest, not commercial interests at play when I was making that decision. Certainly, for context, this is the only airline that has something like that that has happened. And so I can’t say that, you know, I wasn’t aware of it but certainly it wasn’t the only factor.”
Whatever that means, she decried allegations that her decision was a protective measure for Qantas, calling it “nonsense” and explaining, “I mean, really, that is an absolute nonsense, and somehow seems to be tied up with people’s anger about Qantas, and I get that, I get why people are angry about Qantas.”
But with an aviation green paper outlining Australian policy toward air travel suggesting a need to ramp up service ahead of demand, it is not unreasonable to ask how her decision can be motivated by anything but efforts to protect the flag carrier Qantas. King suggested that more service by Qatar Airways would not lower airfare…a very shaky assertion that belies basic notions of supply and demand.
Australia has denied a bid by Qatar Airways to expand service to Australia, saying the 2020 strip search incident played a role in the decision (after first denying it). The nebulous nature and shaky justification for the denial of more air service suggests, to me at least, that the subtext of this decision is to protect Qantas. That’s a dangerous game for Australian consumers.
image: Qatar Airways