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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Steve Evans

Barr takes case to feds for Qatar to abide by rules, return Canberra flights

The ACT government is lobbying the Commonwealth to insist that Qatar Airways keeps flying to Canberra in the face of repeated delays by the Middle Eastern carrier on resuming the route.

Before the pandemic, it was possible to get direct flights from Canberra to and from the airline's hub in Doha, and then on to big European and Asian destinations.

The route put Canberra on the international flight map. It meant that Canberra passengers didn't have to transit in Sydney or Melbourne, carting baggage through customs in the big airports rather than in Canberra.

The arrangement was that using Canberra for international flights was part of the deal if Qatar (or other airlines) wanted more routes to Australia.

But ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the matter was "currently before the federal government".

He said of the current "secondary access" rule (that Qatar must fly to Canberra or other smaller airports if it wants more access to the big airports): "We support that policy framework because it's a way for Canberra airport - and indeed other smaller airports: Adelaide, Newcastle etc - to get international flights."

He said he had "put forward the case very strongly to the Commonwealth" that in any negotiation, that rule should continue and that Qatar would abide by it.

"My hope is that they will say that that policy will remain in place. If they want an extra flight into Melbourne or Sydney, they've got to fly through Canberra."

But he also said that it was possible for a shared arrangement with Adelaide. Under this scenario, an extra daily Qatar flight to Melbourne might go on four days a week to Canberra and three to Adelaide.

The airport said it remained confident that Qatar would return at some stage.

"We support the continuation of the secondary access rule as it opens up greater opportunity to connect Canberra internationally and attract more airlines," the airport's head of aviation, Michael Thomson, said.

"The current policy was the catalyst for Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines to provide services to Canberra, and we look forward to the return of these services and new international airlines in to Canberra."

He said in January: "Our top priority this year is to connect Canberra internationally. We are focused on resuming services to the Middle East and Singapore and new services to the South Pacific and New Zealand."

The other international airline which flew in and out of Canberra before the pandemic - Singapore Airlines - is yet to name any date for a return.

The airport and the ACT government have also been lobbying airlines in New Zealand and Fiji to open up direct flights to Canberra. Those discussions remain ongoing.

Qatar Airways did not respond to a request for information on why it keeps postponing its return to Canberra.

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A Qatar Airways plane at Canberra airport before flights were suspended. Picture by Karleen Minney
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