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Qatar Airways see ‘manageable’ decline on US flights amid electronics ban

License to start the new Indian airline to be applied in a few weeks’ time: Al Baker

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive and Ehab Amin, acting chief commercial
Gulf News

Dubai: Qatar Airways has not seen massive declines on its US flight numbers following the recent imposition of the electronics ban on the US flights from the Middle East by the Trump administration.

The airline’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker said on Monday that while there was some decline, it was something that was “manageable”.

“We didn’t have massive declines like other carriers. So we still have robust loads to the US and we will continue our commitment to our passengers in the US,” he said to reporters at a press conference at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

His comments come shortly after Emirates’ recent decision to slash its US flights owing to the electronics ban coupled with visa restrictions resulting into weakened travel demand. The airline last week that starting next month it would be reducing flights to five of the 12 US cities it currently serves, including Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Seattle, Boston and Los Angeles.

“The US is not the entire world. We have a lot of other opportunities. We have a lot of other new markets that we will keep expanding into. Qatar Airways does not plan and will not reduce frequencies in on the US,” Al Baker said.

He added that the Doha-based airline will continue its expansion … “not only to the US.”

The airline is, in fact, gearing to launch its next US destination — San Francisco — in the first half of next year. That would be soon followed by Las Vegas route launch in the second quarter of 2018, originally planned for the first-quarter 2018 launch.

Speaking of the travel ban blocking entry to the US for citizens from six Middle East countries, Al Baker said it is affecting the business “but to a very small extent … that the airline can mitigate the risk and still continue its full operation to the US.”

He added: “I am sure that these uncertainties that passengers have will soon be resolved by statements from the US government … sooner or later. I am sure that stable minds at the end will prevail and a newer strategy will come out of President Trump’s office in order to encourage people to travel to the US, not otherwise.”

Qatar Airways chief said the airline would reconsider its plans for New Zealand if a similar laptop ban is imposed by that country on Middle East airlines.

“We will then have to measure if it’s really still worth us flying to New Zealand or not. It’s a very expensive route for us to operate. It is the longest commercial flight.”

He added that the New Zealand market is performing well at the moment. “But if we are imposed with bans which will affect our traffic then we will have to reconsider.”

Trump

Asked if Al Baker saw any breakthrough in the ongoing subsidy spat between Gulf and US carriers under the new US administration under President Donald Trump, Al Baker said: “I have repeatedly mentioned that US President Donald Trump is a very wise individual and a very good businessman. And I don’t think that he will buy into bullying by the three American carriers [Delta, United and American Airlines].

“Three American carriers do not represent the US. They only represent the three American carriers. We create jobs, we buy American, we invest in the US and I think we outweigh whatever jobs creating these three American carriers are doing. They have no reason to complain. They are only self-centric. They only operate to places where they can swindle their customers. And I think they should be ashamed of themselves by still pursuing the matter repeatedly failing to convince President Trump and previously President Obama.”

Aircraft delays

In 2017, aggressive growth will continue for the Doha-based airline, according to its chief executive. On Monday, the airline announced 12 new destinations for this year going into early part of 2018, including San Francisco, Portugal, Prague, Ukraine among others. This is in addition to the 14 routes announced previously, making a total tally of 26 new routes.

Al Baker said that the “famous delays of the Airbus A350” have forced the airline to push some of these launches into next year as opposed to this year as was originally planned.

“We continue to face delays because of that. Qatar Airways is short of nearly 11 aircraft in its fleet, which had been delayed. And if those 11 planes were delivered, all of those 26 destinations would be fulfilled before the end of the airline’s financial year ending March 31, 2018.”

Qatar Airways is the global launch customer for the Airbus A350.

Indian airline license soon

Qatar Airways will be applying for the license to start a new airline in India, with a fleet of 100 aircraft, in a few weeks’ time. It will be a joint application from Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Qatar Airways, said Al Baker.

“We have not yet made a formal application. We have just sounded out the authorities and they are very receptive. They have passed their new policy and Qatar Airways will take advantage of this,” he added.

Al Baker further said that four aircraft makers will be able to bid for the 100 plane narrow-body order. These include Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier (C-Series) and Embraer.

Record profit

Qatar Airways in June will be announcing record profit, Al Baker said. “It will be the highest profit Qatar Airways has ever made.”

“And the people from Delta, American Airlines and United will be able to see our balance sheet and see our original accounts. So they cannot anymore make excuses that we are subsidised or we are getting handouts like they get from the cities that they operate to, by getting tax exemptions, fuel subsidies etc,” he added.

Meridiana deal

Qatar Airways will be signing a deal to buy a stake in Italian carrier, Meridiana, in the “next couple of days”, Al Baker said. “We hopefully attend their first Board meeting of the holding company next Friday.” Qatar Airways had said last year it would be buying a 49 per cent stake in Italy’s second biggest carrier.

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