The Australian government has blocked a bid by Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad International) to increase flights. The airline, which is allowed to operate 28 roundtrips per week into Australia's four busiest airports, wanted to add another 21 weekly roundtrips to the allowance.

Australia Transport Minister Catherine King wrote to a group of Australian women taken off a Qatar Airways flight at gunpoint in October 2020 and subjected to invasive internal examinations in the back of ambulances on the tarmac after an abandoned newborn child was found in the terminal, saying she had vetoed the request.

"As most Australians were, I was shocked by what happened to you at Hamad International Airport. The treatment you received was disgraceful," the minister said in a July 10 letter, the contents of which were obtained by The Australian media outlet. "Your experience remains in my thoughts, as well as those of my colleagues. The Australian government is not considering additional bilateral air rights with Qatar." Minister King's office declined to comment on the record to ch-aviation.

Qatar Airways had built considerable goodwill in Australia for maintaining services to the country throughout the pandemic. It also helped evacuate Australian nationals during the fall of Kabul. However, neither made up for the botched response to the child's discovery in the terminal. Many Australians, particularly female travellers and families with daughters, now refuse to fly the carrier. Qatar Airways, now a respondent in a class action by the women, has maintained the decision to conduct the examinations was made by the Qatari police. The Australian government is reported to have informed Qatar Airways of its decision on July 18.

Nonetheless, Qatar Airways still fills daily A380-800 flights into Sydney Kingsford Smith and Perth International, as well as daily B777-300ER services to Brisbane International and Melbourne Tullamarine, taking it to the 28 flights per week ceiling. The airline also has unlimited access rights to other Australian airports, either directly or via another airport. Consequently, Qatar Airways does run some tag flights to smaller cities from one of the major Australian capitals. Before the pandemic, Qatar Airways flew to Sydney twice daily but operated one of those flights via Canberra. Now, it flies to Melbourne twice daily but adds an Adelaide International tag onto one of those services. The airline also operates a second daily flight in Adelaide, the first leg of its Doha - Adelaide - Auckland International flight. Qatar Airways had wanted to go double daily into Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane without the tag flights.

Qatar's bid did enjoy some support, including from Australian state governments and the tourism industry. However, in addition to the backlash over the searches, Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith) had vigorously campaigned against Qatar Airways acquiring any additional traffic rights. Qantas has a fraught relationship with Qatar Airways, despite both being Oneworld members. In 2022, Qatar Airways entered into a partnership agreement with Virgin Australia (VA, Brisbane International), and has since explicitly favoured that airline over its oneworld partner. In a formal submission to the Australian government last year, Qantas said granting Qatar Airways additional traffic rights would adversely impact non-government-funded airlines. However, critics of the decision are calling it protectionist.

Neither Qatar Airways nor Qantas responded to ch-aviation's request for comment.