Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has branded the Albanese government’s decision to reject more flights for the airline as “very unfair” ahead of an upcoming inquiry into the call.
Appearing on US network CNN overnight, the global aviation boss said he was “very surprised” the government blocked a number of additional Qatar Airways flights in July and was confident in a Senate probe to uncover why it occurred.
“We can never influence a government decision, but the fact remains we were very surprised on getting these flights blocked, or unapproved I can say – there’s a parliamentary inquiry and it is very difficult for me to make any comments,” Mr Al Baker said.
Mr Al Baker said Qatar Airways had supported Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic and helped to repatriate “stranded citizens” from around the world and out of the country.
“When the national carrier and their partners completely stopped operating in Australia. We were there for the people of Australia,” he said.
Mr Al Baker said had full confidence in an inquiry to investigate the call to reject Qatar’s application which is due to begin next week.
“We will have to wait and see what conclusion they get up to,” he said.
Qatar Airways’ response follows weeks of building tension in parliament over transport minister Catherine King’s decision to block the airline’s application for an extra 21 services in July.
Ms King has pressed she made the decision in the “national interest” and disclosed she told the prime minister about it “prior to the decision being made public” on 18 July.
Both Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Ms King have faced intense scrutiny from the opposition and independent crossbenchers over recent days, with ministers declaring they want more detail on what influenced the ruling.
Senate hearings will begin on Tuesday and will investigate “all federal government decisions relating to commonwealth bilateral air service agreements” over the past 12 months, with a final report expected in October.
Embattled former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce will appear during hearings, including his successor Vanessa Hudson, along with officials from Qatar Airways, Virgin Australia and regional airline, Rex.