Qantas stoush with Canberra Airport singled out in government review
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Qantas stoush with Canberra Airport singled out in government review

An extraordinary stoush between Qantas and Canberra Airport has been singled out in a Productivity Commission report as a reason why airport regulation needs to be examined.

It has published a new issues paper after Treasurer Scott Morrison asked it to investigate the economics of airport regulation in Australia.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who in March labelled Canberra Airport's behaviour "absolutely appalling".

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who in March labelled Canberra Airport's behaviour "absolutely appalling". Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“Both airports and airlines have been criticised for the way they conduct negotiations,” the commission’s report read.

“For example, the chief executive of Qantas recently likened the behaviour of Canberra Airport to ‘Somali pirates’ over a dispute arising from a redirected flight.”

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The report referenced a spat between the airport and Australia’s largest airline, which came to light in May this year.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce likened the airport to a crew of Somali pirates after an incident in which the airport asked the airline to pay an $18,000 diversion fee following an unexpected landing.

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Qantas said Canberra Airport had essentially ransomed the plane by parking an escort car in its way, blocking its take-off until the fee was paid by credit card.

Canberra Airport said the plane was only delayed for eight minutes while they negotiated a diversion agreement to prevent unexpected and unsafe landings in the future.

Mr Joyce said he had encountered nothing like the incident in nearly 30 years working in aviation.

“They actually ransomed one of our aircraft. I’m talking about appalling behaviour,” he said.

Canberra Airport rejected that the plane was “ransomed”, and said it even left in time to make its allocated slot time in Sydney.

“It was the last in a series of unannounced diversions by Qantas that posed a safety risk at Canberra Airport,” an airport spokeswoman said.

“One such incident occurred during the refuelling of a fire fighting plane during a fast-moving bushfire.”

The former chair of Australia’s competition watchdog, Graeme Samuel, likened the aggressive behaviour of Canberra Airport to something out of Somalia or Kenya.

Kenyan high commissioner Isaiya Kabira then entered the fray to reject the comparison.

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“While it is in your full right to express your outrage, we find it extremely unfortunate that you draw parallels of inefficiency and imagery of piracy to a respected and much-admired airport of Nairobi,” Mr Kabira wrote.

“We also bring to your attention that thousands of young Kenyan soldiers have put their lives on the line to pacify and bring peace in Somalia, a corner of the world, long forgotten by many nations, as part of a peace keeping force of the African Union.”

The Productivity Commission said other airlines had made similar complaints, although with less “rhetorical flourish” than Mr Joyce’s Somali comparison.

It also said both airlines and airports needed to be more transparent with their negotiating positions.

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“The commission has found in recent inquiries an increasing reluctance of parties to expose information that may determine a matter, due to commercial-in-confidence claims," it said.

“Submitters should consider that position very closely.”

The commission last reviewed Australian airport regulation in 2012, although that review only focused on major gateway airports and not smaller hubs such as Canberra.

Submissions close in early September and more information can be found on the Productivity Commission’s website.