Leave if you are not happy, Qantas Airways CEO Alan Joyce said in response to renewed threats by Qatar Airways to quit a global airline pact amid a brewing dispute over the Gulf carrier’s expansion plans.
The head of the Australian airline told the Post earlier this week that “nobody should be in an alliance where they believe it’s not working for them”. Both companies are part of Oneworld, a grouping of some of the world’s top airlines, including Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has threatened for years to pull out of the pact. He revived the warning last month, then reiterated his comments on Tuesday, citing a letter allegedly sent by Qantas to its staff attacking the Gulf airline’s push into Australia.
Al Baker, who has defended the expansion as being done at the invitation of the Australian government, said he “doesn’t see any point” staying in the alliance.
In his first public comments since the rift made headlines, Joyce said: “Our view has been very simple, we’re after fair competition.”
He said this was what Qantas wanted from the Australian government’s bilateral discussions with other nations on aviation, adding: “Nobody could say there is anything wrong with that.”
Elaborating on what he meant by “fair competition”, Joyce said the general thinking was that companies were economically independent and not cross-subsidised by a government.
“If aviation was governed by the World Trade Organisation, there would be some dumping cases against people for going in well below cost to force people off routes and markets. We think those rules should apply to aviation markets,” he added.
Oneworld, which has 13 core members, is one of the big three global airline pacts. The others are Star Alliance, whose top members include Singapore Airlines, and Skyteam, which counts Delta Air Lines among its leading carriers.
Customers of member airlines share perks and benefits across the wider grouping, including air miles for flights and access to facilities such as airport lounges.
Among the big draws for travellers on Qatar Airways are its low prices for long-haul destinations, particularly in business class, often as low as US$1,000 for a return ticket between Europe and Australia.
Qantas’ CEO said, however, that the company’s customers would not lose out as a result of the dispute, as its pact with Emirates – Qatar’s arch-rival – along with Air France and KLM would allow it to replace any lost destinations only served by the Doha-based carrier.
“We’ve plenty of other alternative mechanisms, which is the way our network is designed,” Joyce said. “People have a lot of choice on the Qantas-coded network to get to the same European points that they had been using Qatar.”
As for the threat to quit Oneworld, he said: “If they decide to leave, it is because it is no longer working for them. Nobody should be in an alliance where they believe its not working for them. If Qatar feel they do better outside of Oneworld, that is up to them.”
Oneworld said it was keen to see its members resolve their differences quickly.
“Like any family, there are times when our members have differences on specific issues. We hope they can be resolved quickly so that all parties can focus fully on what is important for us all – delivering great service to customers,” a spokesman said.
Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways’ parent International Airlines Group (IAG), told London’s financial community two weeks ago it was “highly likely” Qatar Airways would leave, in the first independent comments that validated the exit warnings.
Al Baker’s comments were a “genuine threat”, but such a move would not impact BA’s business relations with Qatar Airways, Walsh said, as the two companies had discussed the implications of an exit on each other’s business.
Qatar owns a 20 per cent stake in IAG and has a 10 per cent stake in Cathay Pacific and LatAm, the pan-Latin American carrier. Its stakes in foreign carriers were evidence Qatar “doesn’t need to be in an alliance”, Al Baker told the audience at an International Air Transport Association conference in Spain on Tuesday.
“I don’t see any point in us continuing to stay a part of Oneworld when other partners see us as a threat,” the CEO said at the event, according to a Bloomberg report.
The Post reached out to Qatar Airways for comment but did not receive a reply.