Qantas accuses Canberra airport of “ransoming” 737 full of passengers

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Qantas is claiming that one of it’s B737-800s was held hostage by Canberra Airport after a diversion last year. Qantas Domestic chief, Andrew David, has gone as far as to say that the actions of the privately owned airport is threatening to derail it’s relationship with the airline. The Canberra Times says it is believed the airline has been unhappy with the airport for some time.

Canberra Airport Managing Director Stephen Byron has previously criticised both Qantas and Virgin Australia for their high cancellation rates on the SYD-CBR route. He also wants the Commonwealth Government to intervene to address the cancellation rate. He has also recently met with the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr David told The Canberra Times, “We deal with airports around Australia and around the world, and none of them behave the way Canberra Airport does. It’s bizarre. It’s hard to see how a company can think that attacking its biggest customer, which Qantas is, will improve matters.”

Mr Byron told the newspaper, “We want to stand up for our Canberra customers and those flying here, so they get a good quality of service. When we’ve had very high and concerning cancellation rates by Qantas – that are three to four times the national average – we seek a better deal and a more reliable service for our customers.”

In March last year a Qantas flight from Auckland to Sydney diverted to Canberra due to bad weather. The airline says that the airport parked a follow me car behind the 737-800 that was carrying almost 170 passengers, and refused to move it until diversion charges were paid for by credit card. It’s believed the airport wanted $18,000 ($US13,591 €11,340 £10,000). Australian Aviation magazine says the average cost for a diversion of a 737 at other similar sized airports is $2000 ($US1510 €1260, £1111).

Australian Aviation says it understands the charges were lowered only after senior Qantas management intervened.

Mr Byron told the Times that the charge was necessary to provide a disincentive for airlines to make unplanned landings without a formal agreement in place – the previous agreement between Qantas and the airport expired before this diversion. He also said the agreements were a safety measure because Canberra Airport had only a limited number of spots for international diversions.

A Qantas spokesperson further told the Times, “Diversions are, by their very nature, unexpected. Cost aside, this episode involved Canberra Airport essentially ransoming an aircraft full of passengers on the tarmac by parking a car behind it. This behaviour beggars belief.”

Mr David said back in April, “The cancellation rate on Sydney to Canberra is higher than the national average, and we’re working to fix that, but it’s still very low in the scheme of things. It’s also one of the highest frequency routes in the country, so if a flight is cancelled for operational reasons, then the wait time is minimal. Cancelling or delaying flights disturbs passengers and costs us money, so we have plenty of reasons to minimise them. Canberra Airport seems to think it’s some sort of conspiracy and that they can publicly shame us out of it. That’s simply not how it works.”

Mr Byron also wrote to both Qantas and Virgin in April offering $100,000 ($US75,535, €62,970, £55,580) to the airline with the least monthly cancellations. Neither airline accepted the offer.

Australian Aviation points out there are few diversion options within Australia, with Adelaide, Canberra, Perth and Sydney only having 1 major airport capable or authorised to handle domestic regular public transport and international flights.

This article was edited to change the aircraft from 747 to 737