The fight erupted between Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron and Mr Joyce. (ABC News/AAP: Joel Carrett)
A vicious war of words has erupted between Qantas and Canberra Airport, after the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce compared the airport’s tactics to Somali pirates.
In response to Mr Joyce’s claim that a “ransom” of $18,000 had been demanded before a plane could take off in March 2017, Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron said “It’s absolute bullshit … I mean what the f***? Do these people walk around with a credit card machine?”.
“It’s bullshit, and they’re bullshitters, I mean they’re f***ing bullshitters!
“We don’t have credit card facilities out on the runway.”
Last night Mr Joyce told reporters a plane that landed in Canberra after being diverted from Sydney last year had been “ransomed”, and physically prevented from taking off until $18,000 was paid to the airport.
Canberra Airport said the stoush began over Qantas diverting too many flights. (ABC News: Jana Black)
“They actually ransomed one of our aircraft, I mean talk about appalling behaviour,” he said.
“I’ve never seen it in my nearly 30 years in the aviation industry where a pilot’s been told to pass over a credit card of $18,000 otherwise the aircraft can’t go.
“Maybe the airport should be called the Canberra Pirates, because you wouldn’t have this in Somalia.
“You wouldn’t have this in other parts of the world.”
In response, Mr Byron said the claims were incorrect, though admitted a car had been parked in front of a Qantas jet in order to prevent it from leaving.
He said the incident only lasted for eight minutes.
“Qantas had landed two 747s unannounced and put other aircraft in danger, five weeks before this incident,” he said.
“This was an incident where Qantas had to be held to account in terms of safety and putting other aircraft at risk.
“There was no payment made at all, there was no dispute about payment.”
Mr Byron said Qantas had been diverting flights to Canberra without proper planning, potentially putting other aircraft at risk.
He said the airline entered into an agreement following the incident where a jet was parked in.
“This was the last in a series of multiple incidents where unannounced Qantas were diverting large international aircraft to Canberra Airport, and putting other aircraft that had planned and arrangements in place to divert to Canberra Airport in jeopardy,” he said.
Better arbitration called for
Mr Joyce’s position was backed up by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) head Graeme Samuels, who said the position airports held amounted to a monopoly.
“That’s not Australia, that’s a third-world country,” he said.
“In fact, I’m assured by Qantas that doesn’t even happen in third-world countries.”
But Mr Byron said safety had always been the airport’s priority, calling Mr Samuels a “well-paid lobbyist” for Qantas’ interests.
“Canberra Airport can’t handle multiple diversions, Qantas was putting too much pressure with their diversions,” he said.
“Qantas was running roughshod over all the other airlines and Canberra Airport, making up its own rules and putting other aircraft in danger.”
Mr Joyce called for better arbitration between airlines and airports, and accused airports around the country of passing costs onto airlines and consumers.
“We think an arbitration role that the ACCC can fulfil where the airlines and airports can get to agreement, it forces them to go in and do arbitration,” he said.
“Consumers are losing out, because there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in higher charges that we can’t pass on to our customers.
“They can just sit back, increase the fees, and let the airlines pay for it.”
According to Mr Byron, Qantas and the airport had agreed to an effective ceasefire over the incident, until Mr Joyce’s comments last night.