Qatar Airways’ boss will not appear on the first day of a probe tasked to investigate why the government blocked the airline’s bid to offer extra flight services into Australia.
A Senate inquiry into bilateral air rights will hold its first public hearing on Tuesday, following weeks of mounting tension over a controversial government-led move to block Qatar’s application in July.
Committee chair Bridget McKenzie told The Australian on Monday that Qatar’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker would not be pitching in on the first day of hearings, with representatives booked for hearings next week.
She later told Sky News that invitations for the hearings “went out late” and that Tuesday’s hearing will focus on issues occurring in Sydney Airport including “broader consumer concerns.”
The highly-anticipated inquiry is due to investigate “all federal government decisions relating to commonwealth bilateral air service agreements” over the past 12 months, with a final report expected to be handed down in October.
The inquiry will examine whether a lack of competition in the aviation sector is pushing up airfare prices and impacting the tourism and hospitality sectors.
The full program has yet to be finalised, however former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has been tipped to appear, including his successor Vanessa Hudson, along with officials from Virgin Australia and regional airline, Rex.
Reports of Mr Al Baker’s absence came after the airline boss broke his silence over the government’s decision to deny Qatar 21 additional flights over the weekend, declaring Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision as “very unfair.”
“We can never influence a government decision, but the fact remains we were very surprised at getting these flights blocked, or unapproved I can say – there’s a parliamentary inquiry and it is very difficult for me to make any comments,” Mr Al Baker told CNN.
“We will have to wait and see what conclusion they get up to,” he said.
The Senate committee is expected to hand down a final report by October 9.