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Qatar Airways announces flights to Canberra with its list of new 2017/18 destinations

by November 29, 2016 General

Canberrans will have more international flight options within the next two years after Qatar Airways’ “surprise” announcement it will start flying directly to and from Canberra.

The capital is set to be the airline’s fifth Australian destination, as one of 15 new international flights announced by the airline for 2017/18.

The Australian capital is one of Qatar Airways' eight new destinations for 2017-18. The Australian capital is one of Qatar Airways’ eight new destinations for 2017-18. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Auckland will be the first new gateway for the state-owned airline of Qatar, starting on February 5, 2017.

There is no indication at this stage of when the Canberra route will begin but ACT deputy chief minister Yvette Berry said the announcement took the government by surprise.

“This has been a bit of a surprise for the ACT government, we heard at the same time everyone else did this morning,” Minister Berry said.

Before the election ACT Labor promised to set aside $770,000 for an Airline Partnership Fund to attract more airline services to Canberra.

Minister Berry was unable to say whether Qatar Airways would draw on this fund as the airline had not contacted the government.

“The devil is always in the detail but certainly it’s been something the chief minister has been working really hard on, getting international flights here in the ACT.

“We’ve got international flights to Wellington now and Singapore and we didn’t have to do much and now we’ve got some interest from another international flight from Qatar so we’ll look with interest at what their proposal will be and we’ll certainly take them up on any offers and conversations about how we can work together,” she said.

Qatar Airways operates a hub-and-spoke network, flying to more than 150 international destinations across Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America and Oceania from its base at Hamad International Airport in Doha.

It has a fleet of more than 180 aircraft and the airlines’ group chief executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said Qatar Airways operates the world’s youngest fleet and the most technologically advanced aircraft.

“With today’s network announcement, we will be able to connect more people to more places than any other Gulf airline, and we will ensure our passengers will delight in the journey,” he said.

“We are going places together with our passengers, and we look forward to welcoming these new destinations in 2017-18.”

The direct flights between Australia’s capital and Doha will provide Canberrans with another convenient gateway to Europe without the need to go through Sydney Airport.

The airline flies directly from Doha to about 40 European cities.

CEO of Canberra Business Chamber Robyn Hendry said the announcement came as a “huge surprise but it was one of the best surprises we’ve had.”

“With the new Singapore Airlines flights and now this, Canberra is really establishing itself as an international city,” she said.

“There are several significant advantages that come from this news, such as focusing on exports in a way that we have never seen in Canberra before. We know that that part of the world [the Middle East] will provide many opportunities for this city.”

ACT Leader of the Opposition Alistair Coe said Canberra residents would benefit from “more choice, competition and convenience for international travel” following the announcement.

“Investments like this from private enterprise, particularly in the form of international connections, are essential to unlocking the potential of Canberra,” Mr Coe said.

“We have many local businesses that will harness the potential of additional direct connections to international markets.

“I think it’s very positive that you have the private sector wanting to invest in Canberra without government support and I think that’s the most sustainable way of having investment in Canberra.”

Singapore Airlines began regular international flights to and from Canberra three months ago, with flights four days a week.

At the launch of the ‘capital express’ route between Canberra, Singapore and Wellington, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said his medium goal was to achieve daily services to and from Asia and establishing a link between Canberra to Auckland.

Qatar Airways currently operates services to Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and Adelaide.

In September 2015, Australia and Qatar approved an extended bilateral air services agreement that meant they could increase the maximum number of flights between Qatar and the four major Australian gateways from 14 per week to 21.

Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester shot down reports from Qatari media that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop signed an open skies agreement with the Arab peninsular country earlier this month, but said Qatar already held authorisation to fly to Canberra “as part of the regional package, which Canberra airport is part of”.

“The agreement that was signed does not provide for ‘open-skies’,” a spokeswoman for the minister said.

“The signed agreement provides for an over-arching legal framework under which air services between Qatar and Australia can operate, including regulatory requirements in relation to safety and security.  The agreement that was signed does not change the existing commercial entitlements currently available to airlines of Qatar”.

The schedule of Qatar Airways’ new destinations, and their starting dates are yet to be announced, but other flights announced include Dublin, Nice, Sarajevo, Skopje, Libreville in Gabon, Douala in Cameroon and Tabuk and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia.