Qatar Airways will launch 12 new destinations in 2018, finalise in ‘the next few days’ an agreement to buy 49% of Italy's second biggest airline Meridiana, and soon apply with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund to start an Indian airline.
The announcements, highlighting the rapid strides of Qatar’s flag-carrier, were made by Group chief executive Akbar al-Baker on the opening day of Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, agencies reported.
The 12 new routes of Qatar Airways, including San Francisco as its 15th US destination, are in addition to the 14 announced earlier for 2017-18. The airline will also become the ‘first in the Middle East’ to offer high-speed broadband connectivity on flights this summer.
Meridiana would operate as a full-service carrier to destinations in Europe and beyond, al-Baker was quoted as saying by Reuters, with the airline taking delivery of 20 Boeing 737 MAXs from the second quarter of 2018.
The 737s will come from a Qatar Airways’ order of Boeing jets announced last October. Meridiana offers flights to and from the island of Sardinia and other destinations in Italy.
Qatar Airways will apply with the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) for a domestic Indian airline operating licence in the next few weeks, al-Baker said. The Indian carrier would be majority owned by QIA, with Qatar Airways controlling a minority interest, he said.
Manufacturers Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer would be welcome to bid for orders from the Indian carrier, al-Baker said. Qatar Airways has said it plans to operate a domestic Indian carrier with around 100 jets, according to Reuters.
Bloomberg reported that Qatar Airways’ US network expansion announcement comes just days after Dubai-based Emirates moved to reduce flights to the country citing a ban on carrying on laptop and tablet computers on flights from Middle East airports, including Doha.
Emirates last week cited weaker demand caused by the restrictions as the cause for scaling back flights on five of its 12 US routes, pointed out Bloomberg.
“We didn’t have massive declines like other carriers, so we still have robust loads to the US,” said al-Baker who explained that the airline’s US planes are flying ‘about 75% full, down about half a percentage point since the laptop ban.’
Qatar Airways has introduced measures to counter the electronics ban by offering loaner laptops to premium customers on US-bound flights, joining Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways in working around the restrictions.
AFP reported that the Qatar Airways chief accused American carriers, complaining over alleged subsidies to Gulf airlines of "bullying." US carriers Delta, United and American Airlines have accused Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad of benefitting from government subsidies to expand their transcontinental networks.
They have urged US President Donald Trump to take action against the Gulf airlines, who deny any form of subsidy.
Al-Baker told reporters at the annual Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, that he didn't expect any action from Washington.
"President Trump is a wise individual and a very good businessman, and I don't think he will buy into bullying by the three American carriers," Baker said.
"We create jobs, we buy American, We invest in the US and I think we outweigh whatever job creation these three American carriers are doing," al-Baker was quoted by Reuters as saying.
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