Some people will miss John Anderson being Deputy PM and minister for transport – like Geoff Dixon and Margaret Jackson, the Qantas duo who always seemed to get most of what they wanted from “Hollywood.”
Will Mark Vaile be so available? Suggesting Singapore Airlines should be allowed to take over Qantas probably isn’t the sort of nationalistic impression the new National Party leader wanted to create this week, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Vaile isn’t going to prove a Qantas captive as well. Vaile’s rather strange statement really means he’s in favour of scrapping the limit on foreign ownership of Qantas – just what Dixon and Jackson have been wanting for years.
Vaile has generally been seen to be in the Costello camp rather than Qantas’s pocket when it comes to allowing Singapore Airlines fly the Pacific route, perhaps reflecting the greater time he’s spent criss-crossing the Pacific with his trade minister hat on. He’s also had the (relatively) rational briefing of his departmental advisers and the embarrassment of dealing with the oddity in our free trade agreement with China.
Will all that change when he’s National Party leader and has to answer to his members when Qantas threatens to withdraw a service to Woop-woop? We’ll find out soon enough.
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Meanwhile, there’s an interesting view put in Singapore’s Today newspaper by a local aviation consultant and tourism executive, Prithpal Singh, about the failure of JetStar Asia. Singh wants Singapore to go for the higher moral ground by announcing a unilateral open skies regime, starting with its ASEAN neighbours. Singh writes:
Let any number of Malaysian and Indonesian airlines fly into Singapore without demanding reciprocity. This would unclog the Singapore-KL route and bring fares down, and with Indonesia, remove the bad taste of the tit-for-tat restrictions on budget carriers.”
Singapore-based JetStar Asia could become an issue if it were to fail. It’s an open secret that, like the other budget carriers here, it’s a money loser. There are complaints that 49% Qantas-owned JetStar Asia is not getting lucrative routes and that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is not trying hard enough to secure them. The CAAS has denied this.
If the complaints became louder and if Jetstar were to wind down, or Qantas were to pull out of this partnership, it would be a blow to Singapore’s image and give Qantas ammunition to use against Singapore. We have to be realistic on one important point – that for all the rhetoric, it’s highly unlikely we will see an open skies aviation policy fully implemented in Asia in the foreseeable future.