Is it another ‘kangaroo route’ competitor, a change maker, or both these things and perhaps a lot more?

Qatar Airways today becomes the third Arab emirates airline to currently serve Australia with an initial three flights a week between Melbourne and its home hub at Doha.

For those interested in the product side of its Boeing 777-200LRs, with 42 business class suites and 217 economy class seats, try aviation photographer Sam Chui’s trip report. Chui is nobody’s tool, and pays for his own fares and incidentals.

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For those interested in what it might do to their Qantas shares, do your own research into Qatar and UAE tax laws. Emirates (Dubai) and Etihad (Abu Dhabi), in the United Arab Emirates are enterprises in a federation of economies that behave independently from each other in fiscal policy and impose zero or near zero taxes on almost any significant activity apart from oil production and foreign banking activities.

Qatar Airways is also tax free in Qatar, although the laws related to individuals and foreign enterprises are different in that emirate to those of the UAE.

For those that believe in raw capitalism, Qatar and the UAE (both before and during the current and substantial Dubai debt crisis) are exciting places. Provided their sovereign cultural and religious values are understood and respected.

The emirates occupy the one region from which currently available airliners can fly non-stop with commercially useful payloads to anywhere on earth with the exception of Papeete.

Hence the stunning rise of Emirates since the 80s, and the much more recent competition from Etihad and now Qatar.

Where Qantas and the legacy European carriers like British Airways and Lufthansa, inflict the misery of inefficient and time consuming transfers over Heathrow or Frankfurt on those flying to or from secondary cities, the emirates carriers do it, like Singapore Airlines, by flying into such cities with only one comparatively painless change of plane.

And unlike Singapore Airlines, they also do it daily or multi daily to central and eastern European cities as well as deeper into the UK, and cover the Middle East intensively as well as provide critical links to Eastern and Western Africa.

This is why there is nothing surprising about Qatar accessing the fundamentally liberal air traffic arrangements Australia offers like minded states. Nor is it fair to complain about their economic arrangements when it comes to tax. It’s their business. Maybe an economic model in which prosperity is seen as a consequence of tax free activity is flawed. Maybe it is the way of the future. But it can hardly be categorised as ‘unfair’ for Qatar Airways or its UAE competitors to be free of some of the constraints the western world imposes on its airlines. Why should they play it ‘our’ way if they want to risk trying something totally different?

Before 2010 is over Qatar Airways will have gone from three times weekly to Doha from Melbourne to daily, plus Sydney dailies. It has a plans to double in size within three years, to about the size of Qantas international, and has large pending orders for more Boeing 777s and 787s, and Airbus A380s and A350s.

It will, like the more mature networks of Emirates and Etihad, begin linking this country with leisure and business markets that Qantas didn’t show any sign of even knowing existed until this decade.

Historically, going back two decades, the Middle East carriers gained their initial growth in Australia from the retreat of Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, Alitalia and the former USSR version of Aeroflot from the routes to Europe.

This decade, organic economic growth within the wider Middle East and northern Africa markets has nourished their ambitions. If Australian flag carriers can’t or won’t serve these markets is it not in the national interest for others to seize the opportunities?

Will Emirates stumble because of Dubai’s debt disaster? Maybe. Will Etihad prosper in its place, or even merge with it? Maybe (and it does have a code share deal with Qantas). Will Qatar take its place in the sun? Maybe.

But there is nothing wrong with Qatar having a go.

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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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