Turkish airline lands flight deal in wake of Qatar snub

A major route to Europe has been opened up for Australian travellers after the federal government quintupled the amount of services Turkish Airlines can fly into the country.

Transport Minister Catherine King last week signed off on a new agreement to increase the carrier's weekly allocation from seven to 35 by 2025.

Under the terms of the deal, Turkish Airlines can immediately fly 21 services per week to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, before further increases take effect in 2024 and 2025.

The new agreement eclipses Qatar Airways' allowance of 28 flights to major airports and provides a significant alternative to the Gulf states and Singapore for air travel between Australia and Europe.

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner said the move would drive down airfares to Europe and the UK as the industry was "desperate for more capacity through the Middle East and Asia".

"We worked out that when Qatar wanted another 28 flights, that it would probably have about a 15 per cent decrease in airfares, so we're hoping for a similar impact now that there will be more competition," he said.

The government flew into a barrage of flak when it denied an application by Qatar Airways for extra services into Australia amid lobbying by Qantas.

A Senate committee heard the decision prevented lower airfares and greater competition in the aviation market.

The opposition lambasted Ms King for the secrecy around the decision, after the minister cited factors ranging from protecting the national interest to punishing Qatar for invasive strip searches of Australian women in Doha in October 2020.

Opposition transport spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie said the Turkish Airlines announcement showed the government continues to display preferential treatment and make aviation policy decisions with no transparency.

"The inconsistent decision to increase landing rights for other airlines raises further questions as to why the Albanese government denied Qatar Airways' request for additional flights earlier this year," Senator McKenzie said.

Under the new agreement, Turkish Airlines has also been granted lucrative "fifth freedom of the air" rights, allowing the carrier to route flights between Australia and third-party countries.

A spokeswoman for Ms King said the decision will encourage services between the two countries for the first time. 

Turkish Airlines chose not to use its existing flight allocation because it did not come with fifth freedom rights, she said.

"As the minister has said before, capacity is returning and there have been applications such as the ones approved recently," she said.

"Recovery from COVID will take time and she is taking into account what the sector will look like in the future when making these decisions."

Additional capacity was also granted to Vietnamese carriers, doubling their existing allocation to 77 weekly flights into major airports by 2025.

The government also struck new agreements with Canada, Chile, France, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

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