Qantas has announced a $20 million settlement with the ACCC in relation to price fixing within its freight division in Australia. It has previously settled its liability for similar conduct by its employees in the US, and says it could take several years to conclude its involvement in related investigations in Europe and elsewhere which also involved some 30 airlines.

Price fixing involves a conspiracy among competitors to steal the benefits of competition from their customers. It is as Qantas and others have acknowledged, a shameful matter.

Historically airlines, shipping lines, the great railroad companies and trucking and handling enterprises engaged in cartel like restrictive pricing practices that paralleled a privileged or regulated status in much of the industrialised world. On a larger scale they even became parts of the mechanism of empire, as in the East India company, or foreign trading policy, as applied by Pan American in its earlier history under Juan Trippe.

In that context, the freight fuel surcharge scandals might go down in air transport history as the last throwbacks to behavioral culture of the regulated era, or locally, to the prescriptions of the Two Airline Policy.

Perhaps we can see this as a postscript to an era when the airlines habitually conspired to determine what was in the best ‘interests’ of their customers, at great cost to the wider community.

There are still a few die hards in the industry, in pilot associations as well as airline managements, who pine for re-regulation. This latest settlement in what was a global plot to rob freight customers is a reminder that those voices should be ignored.

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