There has been no change to air traffic rights for airlines from Qatar to operate to Australia despite media reports suggesting the two countries had signed an open skies agreement.
It was reported over the weekend that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani had signed an open skies agreement during the Australian’s recent official visit to Doha.
However, Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester said this was not the case.
“The agreement that was signed does not provide for ‘open-skies’,” Chester said in a statement to Australian Aviation.
“The agreement that was signed does not change the existing commercial entitlements currently available to airlines of Qatar.”
Rather, the signed agreement provided “for an over-arching legal framework under which air services between Qatar and Australia can operate, including regulatory requirements in relation to safety and security”.
Australia’s Ambassador to Qatar, Axel Wabenhorst, also sought to deny media reports of an open skies agreement on Twitter.
In September 2015, the two nations approved an expanded bilateral air services that allowed airlines of Australia or Qatar to operate up to 21 flights a week to the four major international gateways of Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, up from 14 flights a week previously.
There is also unrestricted capacity to fly between Qatar and regional centres such as Adelaide, Cairns, Darwin and the Gold Coast.
While no Australian airline currently offers nonstop service from Australia to Qatar, oneworld alliance member Qatar Airways operates a daily flight to Melbourne, Perth and Sydney from its Doha hub, utilising all available capacity under the current agreement. The airline also offers nonstop service between Doha and Adelaide.
“The entitlements for airlines of Qatar remain at 21 frequencies per week to/from Australia’s major gateways of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth (along with the “Regional Package” of entitlements available to other Australian airports),” Chester said.
“Changes to the existing entitlements can only be done through negotiations between the aeronautical authorities of Australia and Qatar.”
Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) showed Qatar Airways carried 35,024 passengers into Australia in August 2016, with an average load factor of 85.8 per cent. Meanwhile, there were 38,176 passengers on Qatar’s flights out of Australia and an average load factor of 93.6 per cent.