EMIRATES Airlines' campaign to double flights to Australia by 2014 has had a cool response from Transport Minister Warren Truss. He says the airline is already a major player in the domestic market.
While formal aviation talks with the United Arab Emirates will get under way later this year, Mr Truss has signalled Emirates will struggle to win more flights than it has now.
He said the airline could increase the number of Emirates passengers in and out of Australia under existing rules by putting its new fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft, the largest airliner in the world, on its Australian routes.
"They already have a right to 49 services and technically that could be 49 A380 services," Mr Truss told The Age. "They have very substantial capacity now, and they have capacity to put larger aircraft on the route as the 380 comes into service."
But a spokesman for Emirates told The Age yesterday the airline did not accept the argument by Qantas that governments should start mandating what type of aircraft an airline could use.
"We currently have only 5 per cent market share in Australia and we have reached our cap of flights in and out of Australia," the Emirates spokesman said.
"We believe it is a great opportunity for Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney to allow Emirates to increase access and therefore further boost tourism, cargo, investment, jobs and exports."
Emirates has asked Canberra to approve an effective doubling of its daily flights by 2014. The airline has been lobbying intensively in Canberra to persuade MPs of the merits of its proposal, but Qantas is strongly opposed to the Emirates campaign. Qantas has been concerned about the rapid growth of Emirates as a commercial force in Australia.
According to the latest official transport data, Emirates has a 6 per cent market share, Qantas has 28 per cent, Singapore Airlines 10.6 per cent and Air New Zealand 8.7 per cent.
Mr Truss said Emirates could introduce services to Adelaide, Cairns or the Gold Coast under existing agreements.
But he said the Australian Government would hold talks with the United Arab Emirates later this year to see if the existing agreement should be adjusted.
Mr Truss said the Australian Government would not negotiate an application with an individual airline, but with the Government of UAE.
He said talks directly with an airline would require "a major shift in policy", and Canberra was not prepared to make that shift.
Mr Truss said that separate requests from other carriers in the region would also need to be considered in the course of the government-to-government talks, which would start later this year.
Mr Truss' downbeat assessment of Emirates' prospects of expanding its market share in Australia contrasts with that of the Treasurer, Peter Costello, who has endorsed the bid.
The airline's aspirations are also supported by Tourism Minister Fran Bailey, who believes greater competition among airlines will benefit the tourism industry.
The Emirates spokesman said the airline was looking forward to the talks later in the year.
"We look forward to the negotiations between the two governments to ensure that the Emirates and Australia success story continues long into the future."