The public bust-up between Qantas and Canberra Airport has taken another unexpected twist, with a senior Kenyan diplomat now entering the fray.
Last week the former chair of Australia’s competition watchdog, Graeme Samuel, likened the aggressive behaviour of Canberra Airport to something out of Somalia or Kenya.
In response, Kenya’s high commissioner to Australia, Isaiya Kabira, has rebuked the comparison in an open letter sent to Fairfax Media.
“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,” he added.
The letter attributed the comments to Qantas boss Alan Joyce, although the quote referenced in the letter was made by Mr Samuel, who chairs industry body Airlines for Australia and New Zealand.
A spokeswoman for the industry body said they would apologise to the Kenyan embassy.
“The comments were made on the spur of the moment and were a poor choice of wording,” the spokeswoman said.
“There was never any intention to cause offence to Kenya. The intention was to demonstrate our ongoing frustration with the anti-competitive behaviour of Canberra Airport.
“We will issue an apology to the Kenyan Embassy accordingly.”
Mr Samuel made the comparison at an airline industry event at Parliament House on Thursday last week.
“I can’t contemplate any place in the world, except perhaps Somalia or perhaps Nairobi, where an aircraft would, having had to make an unscheduled landing because of weather, had a car parked in front of the aircraft, saying you cannot move until the airline provides a Visa card to extract a charge of $18,000,” he said.
“That’s not Australia. That’s a third world country. I’m assured by Qantas it doesn’t even happen in third world countries they are involved in.”
In contrast, Mr Kabira said Nairobi Airport was a bustling freight and transport hub of which Kenyans were proud.
“The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi is the centrepiece of this hub, serving millions of passengers every year,” he said.
“We are indeed proud that later in the year our national airline, Kenya Airways, will begin direct flights from Nairobi to New York.”
At the same event Mr Joyce had likened Canberra Airport to a band of Somali pirates.
“Maybe the airport should be called ‘The Canberra Pirates’ because you wouldn’t have this in Somalia,” Mr Joyce said.
“You wouldn’t have this in other parts of the world. It is unbelievably appalling behaviour.”
Mr Joyce’s comments referred to a stoush in March last year, in which the airport had asked Qantas to pay an $18,000 diversion fee following an unexpected landing due to bad weather.
A Canberra Airport spokeswoman said Qantas was bullying them after a flare-up over flight cancellations.
“Qantas doesn't like Canberra Airport calling them out on the cancellations,” the spokeswoman said.
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.
But Mr Joyce said he had encountered nothing like the incident in almost 30 years working in aviation.
A Canberra Airport spokeswoman said last week the airport had a positive meeting with Qantas, and was focused on repairing its relationship with the nation’s biggest airline.
“If Graeme Samuel or Alan Joyce wants to continue this bullying behaviour, so be it,” the spokeswoman said.
“Unfortunately, this new attack comes after a positive meeting with Qantas yesterday and puts the progress we made on behalf of our customers in question.”
Canberra Airport has been publicly at loggerheads with Qantas for months, repeatedly speaking out against cancellation rates plaguing flights between Sydney and Canberra.
The airport has gone as far as seeking federal government intervention and recently met Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to discuss the issue.