Qatar Airways announces flights to Canberra with its list of new 2017-18 destinations
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Qatar Airways announces flights to Canberra with its list of new 2017-18 destinations

Canberrans could be able to fly direct to Doha within the next two years after the Middle Eastern airline announced the nation's capital as its fifth direct Australian destination.

The announcement came as a surprise to the ACT government and Canberra Business Chamber on Tuesday, despite Qatar Airways and Canberra Airport management expecting an announcement at some point.

The Australian capital is one of Qatar Airways' eight new destinations for 2017-18.

The Australian capital is one of Qatar Airways' eight new destinations for 2017-18.

Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

ACT deputy chief minister Yvette Berry said the government heard "at the same time everyone else did this morning".

"The devil is always in the detail but certainly it's been something the chief minister has been working really hard on, getting international flights here in the ACT," she said.

"We've got international flights to Wellington now and Singapore and we didn't have to do much and now we've got some interest from another international flight from Qatar so we'll look with interest at what their proposal will be and we'll certainly take them up on any offers and conversations about how we can work together," she said.

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Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron confirmed the airport had been in talks with the "premium airline", but the airport was given little notice of the announcement, which was part of a wider Qatar Airways announcement of 15 new destinations worldwide.

The airline already flies to more than 150 destinations around the globe from its base at Hamad International Airport in Doha.

Mr Byron said he was excited about the flights, which would likely be scheduled late in the day or night, due to the airport's "no curfew" advantage.

The airport had not yet confirmed how many flights there would be each week or a specific schedule, although flights were expected to start in the 2017-18 financial year.

He said there had been a "race to be first to be second" for direct international flights to and from Canberra, after Singapore Airlines began direct flights three months ago.

While ACT Labor pledged to set aside $770,000 for an airline partnership to attract more airlines to Canberra during the election, Mr Byron said the airline would not need to draw on such incentives under their proposal.

Mr Byron said the airport was still talking to other international airlines about other potential opportunities, given the airport could handle up to 12 million passengers a year if needed, compared with about five million passengers a year currently.

The direct flights between Australia's capital and Doha will provide Canberrans with another gateway to Europe without the need to go through Sydney Airport.

The airline flies directly from Doha to about 40 European cities.

A Qatar Airlines spokeswoman said Australia was a "key growth engine" with Sydney and Adelaide joining Melbourne and Perth on Qatar Airways' global network in March and May this year, respectively.

Canberra Business Chamber chief executive Robyn Hendry said the announcement came as a "huge surprise but it was one of the best surprises we've had" and the benefits could include new export opportunities.

"With the new Singapore Airlines flights and now this, Canberra is really establishing itself as an international city," she said.

ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said Canberra residents would benefit from "more choice, competition and convenience for international travel" following the announcement.

Qatar Airways currently operates services to Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and Adelaide.

In September 2015, Australia and Qatar approved an extended bilateral air services agreement that meant they could increase the maximum number of flights between Qatar and the four major Australian gateways from 14 per week to 21.

Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester shot down reports from Qatari media that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop signed an open skies agreement with the Arab peninsular country earlier this month, but said Qatar already held authorisation to fly to Canberra "as part of the regional package, which Canberra airport is part of".

"The agreement that was signed does not provide for 'open-skies'," a spokeswoman for the minister said.

"The signed agreement provides 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. The agreement that was signed does not change the existing commercial entitlements currently available to airlines of Qatar."

But Mr Byron said Canberra Airport did not come under the bilateral agreement, which could mean a quicker path for flights to start, as there were fewer regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Other flights announced include Dublin, Nice, Sarajevo, Skopje, Libreville in Gabon, Douala in Cameroon and Tabuk and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia.

Clare Sibthorpe

Clare Sibthorpe is a reporter for The Canberra Times

Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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