Jayne Hrdlicka, the CEO of Virgin Australia, challenged Qantas’ stance on market distortion and called for additional flights from Qatar Airways, claiming fares could drop by up to 40%.
Virgin Australia’s Chief Executive Jayne Hrdlicka has openly dismissed Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s claims that more flights from Qatar Airways would “distort the market,” labelling such statements as “nonsense.”
“There is no market distortion that can be argued as a reason not to add Qatar’s flights,” Hrdlicka told the ABC.
Her comments come a month after the government declined a Qatar Airways bid to introduce new weekly flights, a decision that has incited criticism against Qantas for high fares and poor service despite receiving $2.7 billion in taxpayer support during the pandemic.
Alan Joyce was scrutinised by a senate committee on Monday but refused to confirm whether additional Qatar Airways competition would lower airfares, stating that prices were “coming down anyway.”
Joyce also mentioned that Qatar Airways didn’t need additional flights to increase its capacity in Australia, as they could fly to other cities or use larger aircraft. Hrdlicka responded by calling this argument an “obfuscation.”
“You need to add seats where the demand exists, it’s a bit of an obfuscation to say fly into cities where there is no demand,” she said.
The persistent high cost of international air fares has been a point of contention, with demand from Australians eager to travel surpassing the supply. Industry experts have suggested that accommodating Qatar Airways with additional capacity could have facilitated the lowering of these fares.
Virgin Australia has revealed that, along with its partners, it currently holds a 23% market share in flights to Europe and the Middle East, in contrast to the 43% dominated by Qantas and its state-owned partner, Emirates.
Allowing Qatar’s extra flights could raise Virgin’s market share to between 25% and 27%, according to Hrdlicka.
More Qatar Airways flights would mean a big reduction in fares, Hrdlicka said, suggesting they could fall by at least a third, maybe 40%.
She added that Virgin Australia sought a government meeting to discuss the implications of this decision on her airline, which is planning a float next year.
The request for the meeting has not yet received a response.
In the meantime, Qantas reported a record $2.5 billion profit last week, alongside a rise in group profit margins from 8.3% before the pandemic to 12%.
Calls for greater scrutiny and competition in the aviation sector are intensifying. ACT Senator David Pocock and Teal independent Kate Chaney have both argued for fostering greater competition across airlines for the consumers’ benefit.
The Australian government said endorsing a Qatar Airways bid for expanded flights into the country would undermine Australia’s “national interest” despite leading industry experts saying it would help tackle rising travel costs triggered by a lack of flights.
Hrdlicka also urged the government to open dialogue on the issue, stating, “Let’s put the facts on the table let’s make sure we’re clear about what national interest means”.