19 Jun 2017 - 16:17
Gulf rift will not halt Qatar Airways’ fleet and route growth plans: CEO
By Victoria Bryan / Reuters
PARIS: A boycott by four Arab nations will not halt Qatar Airways’ growth or plans to accept delivery of new aircraft, it said on Monday, adding it was seeing demand return after an initial downturn.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5 in the worst diplomatic crisis in the region in years.
The crisis has seen those countries close their airspace to Qatar Airways, forcing it to fly longer routes and thereby adding costs.
“There has been monetary impact,” Chief Executive Akbar al Baker said in an interview onboard one of Qatar Airways’ 777 jets at the Paris Airshow on Monday.
“We have had a lot of cancellations, especially to the four countries that did this illegal blockade, but we have found new markets and this is our growth strategy,” he said, adding passengers were returning to the carrier after initially being deterred when the boycott started.
He said Qatar was not the only country affected by the crisis.
“All these countries have families on either side of the borders, they have relatives, children, investments. Eventually people will realise that the move they have done against my country was ill-thought out and ill-advised and that life has to come back to normal,” he said.
Qatar is talking with the United Nations’ aviation agency, ICAO, about the airspace rights’ dispute, and Al Baker said he was disappointed with their actions thus far.
“I don’t think they have moved enough, I don’t think they have taken this matter very seriously,” he said.
He said Qatar Airways had plenty of growth opportunities elsewhere, citing new routes opening this month to Dublin, Skopje and Sarajevo as examples.
“We are not going to defer any of our aircraft ... We are continuing our aircraft deliveries at the same pace as we are contractually obligated to do,” he said, adding Qatar was in talks to add more freighter capacity.
Al Baker said Qatar Airways still wanted to buy a stake in Italian carrier Meridiana, though there were “a few things to iron out.”
However, Qatar is not interested in struggling carrier Alitalia, which is in the process of seeking a buyer.
“We are not interested to look at the books because I know how it has been left behind by one of the airlines that was too keen to relaunch it and failed,” he said.
Separately, Qatar plans to set up a full service Indian carrier to fly domestic routes with around 100 narrowbody planes after the country opened up the airline industry to foreign investors.
Al Baker said an application would be made for an operating licence soon, without giving a more precise timeframe.