If ever you wanted evidence that John Howard is not a market fundamentalist, look no further than his record of protecting Qantas at all costs.

The owners of Melbourne and Brisbane airport have gone public on page one of The AFR today pointing out exactly how direct flights to the Victorian and Queensland capitals have fallen in recent years as Qantas attempts to profitably hub more and more flights through Sydney.

The Brisbane statistics are quite amazing as the national airline really does seem to have taken the Q out of Qantas. How on earth can it be flying fewer people out of Brisbane in 2006 than it was doing nine years ago?

Australia clearly has a looming capacity crisis and the lack of competition is compounding it. Why on earth can’t international airlines provide more direct flights out of Brisbane and Melbourne if Qantas refuses to do it? There is literally never a spare business seat on the Brisbane-LA route but Qantas simply refuses to add more services as it can make more profit forcing customers to go through Sydney.

Given that Macquarie Airports owns half of Sydney Airport, the idea of a Macquarie consortium taking over Qantas should be sending alarm bells off everywhere.

Amazingly, it appears that all Australian international traffic growth in recent years has come from airlines other than Qantas.

Peter Costello has today called for increased flights from other airlines but this won’t help if the PM won’t change his position.

The non-Sydney airports have been telling the government this for years but Qantas seems to have a monopoly over the pollies courtesy of its masterful lobbying, threats to withdraw from regional routes and lavishing upgrades, Chairman’s perks and other freebies on the political class.

Surely it is time to end the protection of Qantas given that the barbarians are offering a staggering $20 billion for it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey