CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A senior Qatar Airways executive told an Australian Senate inquiry on Wednesday there would be no repeat of an incident at Doha’s international airport in 2020 in which female passengers were subjected to invasive gynecological examinations.
Australian Transport Minister Catherine King said three weeks ago that the examinations of 13 Australian women who had boarded a Qatar Airways plane to Sydney were a factor in her decision in July to refuse the Qatar government-owned airline additional flights to Australia.
Qatar Airways Senior Vice President Matt Raos described the incident, which occurred when authorities were looking for the mother of a newborn baby found abandoned in a Hamad International Airport trash can, as "a one-off incident, a very extreme incident.”
“We’ve had nothing like it previously in our history and we’re completely committed to ensuring nothing like this ever happens again,” Raos told the committee.
Raos was responding to government Sen. Tony Sheldon, who had asked for a guarantee on behalf of female passengers who feared they would be subjected to such treatment.
The Doha-based executive declined to detail the incident because five women are suing the airline in Australian Federal Court.
“The outcome of that Federal Court case is something that we will honor and abide,” Raos said.
The five Australian women, whose names are suppressed by a court gag order, say they were taken off the flight to Sydney at Doha at gunpoint by guards and were searched without consent.
Qatar Airways provided no response to their complaints and offered no apology, the women said.
They wrote to Catherine King through their lawyer in June urging that Qatar Airways not be allowed to double its number of Australian services from the current 28 flights per week.
“It is our strong belief that Qatar Airways is not fit to carry passengers around the globe let alone to major Australian airports,” they wrote.
“When you are considering Qatar Airways’ bid for extra landing rights, we beg you to consider its insensitive and irresponsible treatment of us and its failure to ensure the safety and dignity of its passengers," they said.
Raos said Qatar was “surprised and shocked” that Australia had rejected without explanation its application for additional services to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth which was made on Aug. 22, 2022.
Qatar Senior Vice President Fathi Atti told the inquiry that the airline learned of the decision through the news media on July 10 and did not receive official notification from the Australian government until 10 days later.
Earlier this month, King said her decision was made in the “context” of the women’s complaints about their treatment.
“There is no one factor that I would point to that swayed my decision one way or the other,” King told reporters.
The committee is also examining whether Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways influenced the government’s decision in order to reduce competition and keep air fares high.
Vanessa Hudson, who became Qantas chef executive this month, told the committee the airline made a submission to the government last October saying that the international aviation market needed to fully recover from the pandemic before Qatar Airways was given more Australian services.
Qantas chairman Richard Goyder told senators he had no contact with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, his office, ministers or government officials about Qatar Airways' bid for more flights.