Singapore Airlines, in a submission to the government’s National Aviation Policy Green Paper, said it believes the international air services policies of past governments have “not adequately balanced competing interests and that this has come at a cost to the tourism industry and consumer generally, through missed opportunities to capitalise on growth”.
It singled out the so-called transpacific route between Australia and the US for particular criticism, saying that Australia’s regulatory approach “maintains protection for Australian carriers, which is counter to its position of supporting open and free trade elsewhere.”
The route is currently dominated by national carrier Qantas Airways and UAL Corp’s United Airlines, due to a policy of only allowing Australian and US carriers to fly the route.
The Australian and US governments signed an open-skies agreement, allowing Australian or US-owned airlines to fly freely between the two countries, earlier this year. But the route is still closed to outside players such as Singapore Airlines.
“There is simply not enough competition on the transpacific route, with only Qantas and United Airlines servicing the route directly from Australia and fares are very high and uncompetitive as a result,” Singapore Airlines said.
A third carrier, Virgin Blue, is finalising plans to fly between Australia and the US, via its V Australia unit, by the end of the year.
Protecting Qantas’ interests is “serving only the interests of Qantas, not Australia’s national interest, which depends on tourism growth,” Singapore Airlines said.
Qantas operates around 50 services per week between Australia and Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. United Airlines has around 14 weekly services, while Hawaiian Airlines flies three times per week between Honolulu and Sydney.
Singapore Airlines said it is a “long-term player in the Australian market” and has a “keen interest” in developing a strong relationship with the new Australian government.
The airline has long coveted access to the lucrative transpacific route and had hoped a change in government in Australia last November would see a softening of opposition to its ambitions.
Australian Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said in February that his government has no immediate plans to grant foreign carriers access to the Australia to US route and would only consider it if it was deemed in the interests of Australian travellers and the economy.
The Victorian government, in a separate submission, also called on the federal government to grant Singapore Airlines and other “third country” airlines access to the Australia to US route.
It said that, despite the recent open skies agreement with the US, establishing new services to Australia is not a high priority for US airlines. It wants the government to set a timetable for allowing Singapore Airlines and other international carriers access to the route.