Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has finally broken his silence on a recent decision by the Australian government to block a bid by the Doha-based carrier for extra weekly flights to the country, calling it “very unfair”.

In an interview with CNN, Al Baker expressed disappointment over the decision, adding that he was “very surprised” when Australian Transport Minister Catherine King rejected the Qatar Airways bid for 21 extra weekly flights to the various points in the country, citing opposition from the country’s flag carrier, Qantas; the airline currently operates 28 flights to major cities in the country.

“We found it to be very unfair, our legitimate request to be not granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia,” he said during the interview, adding that the airline supported the country during the COVID-19 pandemic by maintaining its operations to Australia despite many other carrier grounding flights.

Al Baker also added that the airline played a vital role in “repatriating stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receiving medical supplies and spare parts, et cetera, during the COVID period when the national carrier and their partners completely stopped operating in Australia.”

On July 19, the Australian government’s decision to reject the Qatar Airways application was announced, which immediately drew criticism from the Australian Airports Association and several opposition MPs.

Former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who abruptly quit his post earlier this month, despite scheduled to retire in November, had addressed a Senate inquiry in August where he revealed the airline had sent a letter to the government in October 2022 about Qatar Airways’ proposal, saying it would distort the market.

Earlier this month, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles also revealed he was not consulted when the country’s transport minister decided to block Qatar Airways’ request.

An inquiry into the decision is underway in the Australian Senate.

(Writing by Bindu Rai, editing by Brinda Darasha)