Catherine King says Turkish Airlines expansion ‘routine’ decision that will open new market

Catherine King says Turkish Airlines expansion ‘routine’ decision that will open new market
  • PublishedDecember 19, 2023

Catherine King quietly approved a proposal for Türkiye’s airline capacity to expand from seven weekly flights to 35 by the middle of 2025, including rights to operate routes between Australia and countries other than Türkiye.

The move has reignited a debate that began when Ms King earlier this year rejected a similar proposal by Qatar to add 21 weekly flights out of Australia’s major airports — which the competition watchdog said would have helped make flights cheaper.

The government faced accusations it was protecting the profits of Qantas by limiting additional capacity — Ms King consistently rejected that claim, instead suggesting that the aviation sector was still stabilising after flights were grounded in the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also cited a 2020 incident in which women were strip-searched at Doha Airport as a factor in her decision.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Ms King acknowledged the sector was still in recovery, but said that the Turkish Airlines expansion would open a new market for Australia.

“Australia and Türkiye share strong cultural, historical and people-to-people links, and aviation plays an important role in supporting these connections,” the spokeswoman said.

“As the minister has said before, capacity is returning and there have been applications such as the ones approved recently, recovery from COVID will take time and she is taking into account what the sector will look like in the future when making these decisions.”

Ms King’s office said Türkiye’s previous approval for seven weekly flights had not been used because they did not come with “fifth freedom rights”, which would allow Turkish Airlines to operate flights that did not depart or arrive at Turkish airports, including stop-over flights.

A plane with Turkish Airlines branding flies over a dense cityscape.
Turkish Airlines has been approved for a massive expansion of flights to Australia, which the transport minister says will open a new market for travellers.(Turkish Airlines)

Shadow Transport Minister Bridget McKenzie this morning said the government continued to display preferential treatment.

“For months the public was lectured by the prime minister, and a conga line of ministers, that the aviation market did not need additional capacity, now the minister has given other airlines additional international flight permits without explanation,” Senator McKenzie said in a statement.

“The inconsistent decision to increase landing rights for other airlines raises further questions as to why the Albanese Government denied Qatar Airways request for additional flights earlier this year.

The senator also questioned why Turkish Airlines had been approved over Qatar Airways, who did more than any other airline to repatriate Australians during COVID. 

Air traffic has slowly returned since border closures during the pandemic brought the industry to a standstill, and the transport minister expects the sector to return to pre-COVID levels within the next year.

Qatar has not submitted a renewed proposal for additional capacity since it was rejected, but the minister has previously said she would reconsider a proposal if it was presented to her.

Ms King acknowledged additional flights and returning capacity would help to lower air fares.

“This additional demand will stimulate competition and encourage more competitive air fares on international routes,” a spokeswoman for the minister said.


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