Canberra Airport has been likened to a crew of Somali pirates by Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who on Thursday derided the airport’s “appalling behaviour”.
“Maybe the airport should be called ‘The Canberra Pirates’ because you wouldn’t have this in Somalia,” Mr Joyce said at an aviation industry event.
“You wouldn’t have this in other parts of the world. It is unbelievably appalling behaviour.”
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.
“They are upset about us standing up for our biggest customer—the travelling public. But we are pleased that the cancellation rates have improved hugely.”
Mr Joyce’s comments referred to a stoush in March last year, in which the airport asked Qantas to pay an $18,000 diversion fee following an unexpected landing due to bad weather.
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,” a spokeswoman said.
“One such incident occurred during the refuelling of a fire fighting plane during a fast-moving bushfire.”
On Thursday industry group Airlines for Australia and New Zealand met at Parliament House to launch a new report examining airport privatisation.
Group chair Graeme Samuel, also a former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said Canberra Airport’s actions would be out of place in a third world country.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Samuel said such actions amounted to “monopoly behaviour”.
“I can imagine [current ACCC chair] Rod Sims is sitting there at his desk grinding his teeth saying, ‘Why can’t I intervene to stop this’.”
Thursday’s report, titled The Performance and Impact of Australia’s Airports Since Privatisation, said regulatory failures were costing passengers.
“Privatisation of Australia’s airports promised to offer many benefits: more efficient management of assets, investment and downward pressure on prices,” Professor Samuel said.
“Yet, in the absence of an effective regulatory regime, airport privatisation has ultimately resulted in higher costs for both airlines and passengers.”
A Canberra Airport spokeswoman said the airport had a positive meeting with Qantas on Wednesday, 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.
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