Qatar Airways seeks new routes to US

Al Baker

Qatar Airways has announced that it hopes to break even in four years’ time.

“We hope we will be profitable in 2011 and after three years we’ll go for an IPO. If we’re profitable before that we will launch the IPO earlier,” CEO Akbar Al Baker told reporters last month.
First founded in 1994, national carrier Qatar Airways was relaunched in 1997 – making this year the tenth anniversary of its stunning growth. From only four aircraft in 1997, the airline now operates 57 aircraft to 75 destinations worldwide and aims to have a fleet of 110 aircraft by 2015.
However, its management is not complacent and the airline has ambitions to further enhance both its network and its customer care.
GINA COLEMAN spoke to Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s CEO to find out more about its plans. Excerpts:

What can we expect from Qatar Airways at ATM?
We will have a wonderful two-deck exhibit stand and will be very much focusing on our forthcoming US launches – New York and Washington DC. There will be a strong flavour of the US theme on our stand and I promise it will be awesome for visitors and other exhibitors to experience.
You now fly to 75 destinations worldwide and serve an increased number of destinations in the Far East, Africa, Europe and North America. Which of these markets offer the greatest growth potential?
Qatar Airways carefully evaluates new route opportunities and would not operate to a new destination if there is no solid business case. As you can see, Qatar Airways is expanding to destinations far and wide across all continents, serving key business and leisure cities. We are well represented across Europe and the Far East but see more potential to grow in these markets. Likewise, Africa presents many opportunities and, indeed, North America where we are excited to be operating to from this summer. We are also eyeing other cities across the US to give us a stronger presence in this very important market. 2007 is a year of massive expansion for Qatar Airways, and 2008 will be another year of exciting route launches.

It will be the first time Qatar Airways planes have flown to North America: what focus are you placing on market development? Do you expect the route will be used mainly by business or leisure travellers and how will that affect your choice of aircraft?
Qatar Airways will be operating our state-of-the-art Airbus A340-600 aircraft on the Doha-Washington route non-stop, offering eight seats in First Class, (layout 1-2-1) 42 seats in Business Class (layout 2-2-2) and 216 seats in Economy Class (layout 2-4-2). The Washington route will appeal to both business and leisure travellers from across the GCC countries and the Indian subcontinent. The New York service, to be operated four-times-a-week via Geneva, will be served with an Airbus A330 in a three-class configuration of First, Business and Economy, offering 12 seats in First, up to 30 in Business Class and up to 223 in Economy. All our aircraft offer comfortable seating and are designed to ensure passengers are given maximum levels of comfort and space. Our A340-600 aircraft, for example, has a unique onboard First Class lounge where our passengers flying in the premium cabin have a dedicated exclusive area to relax and unwind at 35,000 feet.

You are planning an initial four flights a week to New York, but daily flights to Washington. What was the rationale behind that decision? Will Qatar the airline enter into any new agreements with other carriers for internal flights in the US?
Qatar Airways will have interline arrangements in place with US-based carriers where passengers flying Qatar Airways to New York and Washington, will be able to connect onto numerous cities across North America. We are exploring a number of marketing initiatives with US carriers, but cannot reveal details at this stage. New York will initially be served four times a week, but we look forward to expanding the operation to daily in due course. We are one of the fastest growing airlines in the world with a modern fleet of 56 aircraft. As we introduce more aircraft, we will be able to step up frequency on the New York route.
Negotiations recently resumed on flights to Australia; when do you expect these to start? To what cities?
Qatar Airways is interested in serving Australia and we are currently evaluating our plans with no firm dates set as yet. We would obviously like to serve key Australian cities, which include Sydney and Melbourne.

Until now, you have operated an all-Airbus passenger fleet. However, besides additional Airbus planes, Qatar Airways has announced plans to acquire 22 Boeing 777s, with deliveries beginning this year. Are you planning any more orders, and if the Qatari government concludes its deal to buy into EADS, would that impact future choices?
Qatar Airways already has plans to acquire 22 Boeing 777s by the end of the year. Further orders are dependent on a number of factors, but as you realise we are growing at an unprecedented rate, this clearly shows that we would need more aircraft to meet market demand. I am afraid I cannot comment on the Qatari government’s plans.