Airline customers could get better complaints system

An air travellers' ombudsman could be set up to ensure complaints about poor service are handled better.

The suggestion is included in a 224-page aviation green paper released by Transport Minister Catherine King on Thursday.

Ms King is seeking public and industry feedback on a new long-term strategy for the aviation sector.

"We are looking at stronger consumer protections, improvements to complaint handling processes, and improved accessibility for consumers living with disability," she said.

"Through this process, we are also seeking to understand whether options pursued in other jurisdictions - such as a customer rights charter or a stronger ombudsman model - would deliver benefits to Australia’s aviation sector."

The green paper also looks at how to get more competition into the sector.

Australia’s domestic aviation sector is highly concentrated, with few market participants.

Qantas Group controls 61.7 per cent of the domestic market, and Virgin Australia 33.4 per cent.

Feedback is also invited on how to ensure airlines can transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The government's safeguard mechanism climate policy requires the largest airlines to reduce their emissions each year.

Ms King said access to affordable air services was also an important issue.

"They are a key contributor to the liveability of regional Australia, and it is essential that regional services remain viable," she said.

The discussion paper said air fares had trended downwards over recent decades.

In August, the restricted economy fare was 14 per cent below what it was in December 2022 and five per cent less than in February this year.

However, there was the potential for a "structural increase in air fares as airlines implement actions towards net-zero", depending on how quickly cleaner fuel could be scaled up to meet demand.

On-time arrivals were significantly lower than the long-term average (68.2 per cent compared with 81.3 per cent), and on-time departures were also significantly lower (68.1 per cent versus 82.5 per cent).

The green paper noted Australia was likely to have sufficient airport capacity to meet growth, with new runways and terminals opening from the mid-2020s.

However, securing critical skills - in particular pilots and engineers - would be an ongoing challenge for the sector.

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