10 March, 2017

New 100 Strong Fleet for Qatar's Indian Airline

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, has outlined plans to launch an airline in the fast-growing Indian market as part of an international expansion programme.

Mr Al Baker, one of the most powerful figures in international aviation, also made it clear at a press conference in Berlin that he was interested in further developing his airline’s relationship with Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan flag-carrier.

However, in an apparent reference to the challenges facing Etihad, the Abu Dhabi carrier, following its rapid international expansion, Mr Al Baker vowed to move carefully. Etihad has been forced to pour substantial resources into several of its investments, including Air Berlin and Alitalia.

“We want to do [this] one by one, step by step, so that we don’t put so much food in our mouths that we cannot chew, like some airlines did before,” Mr Al Baker said.

Qatar, along with Etihad and Dubai’s Emirates, is one of the trio of Gulf carriers that have transformed international aviation over the past decade by growing quickly and funnelling traffic through their hubs in the Gulf.

India is a critical market for them and other international airlines because of its fast-growing middle class’s increasing propensity to travel. There has long been speculation that Qatar would invest in a partner in the country.

Mr Al Baker, who was at the ITB Berlin travel show, made clear that Qatar planned a wholly-owned Indian operation following a change in India’s airline ownership rules. To fit in with the rules, the airline will be mainly owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, but Qatar Airways will have a stake and manage the operation.

“We will have a 100 per cent-owned domestic airline,” Mr Al Baker said.

The airline would operate 100 single-aisle aircraft such as Airbus’s A320 or Boeing’s 737 and would be a full-service, rather than a budget, offering, Mr Al Baker said.

Other international carriers have built partnerships with Indian airlines, such as Emirates Airlines’ partnership with Jet Airways.

On Royal Air Maroc, Mr Al Baker said Qatar was waiting for an approach from the Moroccan side about a potential investment. “They are in the middle of reorganising the hub . . . at their main station, which is Casablanca,” Mr Al Baker said.

Qatar was also busy finalising its deal to take a 49 per cent stake in Meridiana, an Italian airline, Mr Al Baker added.

However, Mr Al Baker ruled out for the moment further increasing his carrier’s investment in International Airlines Group, the parent of British Airways, in which Qatar holds 20 per cent.

“We don’t have a plan at the moment to increase our shares in IAG,” he said.

Mr Al Baker was bitterly critical of the performance of Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, which has been late in delivering many of the aircraft Qatar is expecting for its route expansion. The airline has so far received 10 fewer Airbus A320s and A350s than planned under the original delivery schedule.

He declined to say how matters might be resolved, citing continuing negotiations with the manufacturer.