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We view ourselves as part of the world community

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Nov 14, 2010

PHUKET (eTN) - The recent official launch of Doha-Phuket by Qatar Airways provided an opportunity to talk with the airline’s CEO Akbar Al Baker not only about Qatar Airways' development but also the challenges in the industry.

eTN: What is the secret to Qatar Airways phenomenal growth?
AKBAR AL BAKER: There [is] currently a lot of excitement from some of the big players in the industry regarding the growth of Middle East carriers. We view ourselves as part of the world community. Qatar Airways is expanding around the world, because as we see opportunities surging, we want to fill up legitimate economic aspirations from countries. We receive on average one aircraft per month and have the ambition until 2012 to expand our network to 120 destinations with 120 aircraft. We currently fly to 93 destinations with a fleet of 90 airplanes.

eTN: Is the sky then the limit for Qatar Airways? How do you see Qatar Airways in 2020?
AKBAR AL BAKER: It is difficult to tell. Ten years ago, my ambition was a network of 35 destinations and 35 aircraft. We have surpassed this target by more than 2.5 times! I cannot tell you how we will look in ten years' time then. But we want to seize opportunities around us, especially in Asia. Demographics and economics are moving. Europe or the USA will not be the center of economic growth in a foreseeable future. This is a fact that economic affluence has now shifted eastwards to Asia. And we are well positioned to benefit from it as we can serve three billion people within a 5-hour radius out of Doha.

eTN: Do you understand the worries expressed by European airlines over the growth of Middle-East carriers?
AKBAR AL BAKER: This is hard to understand the position of European carriers. We size market’s opportunities, and everybody should do the same. We are a natural global hub to the world as the center of economic growth has shifted, as I already mentioned. Singapore has turned into a major hub for Asia, and India could also turn into another major air hub with its huge potential. Do European airlines complain to both Singapore and India to develop? The claims from some European airlines that we benefit from subsidies –including from Europe - is ridiculous. Financial deals with European institutions to acquire aircraft help also the European industry. Frankly speaking, we could deal without to buy Airbus planes. European airlines major problem is dealing with high costs. For example, we only fly with two pilots up to nine hours when Europe carriers still request three pilots. On average, aircraft’s utilization in Europe is 8 hours when we fly 13 hours.

eTN: Do you look to joining a global alliance?
AKBAR AL BAKER: We are not very keen at joining an alliance as we want to keep our complete freedom of decision. Joining an alliance would mean that we would have to seek the agreement of the ‘big boys,’ as soon as we would like to raise capacities or open a new destination in a specific market. We intend to operate our business the way we see it without asking for permission.

eTN: What about low cost competition in your own market? Have you got any plans to enter also into the low-cost arena?
AKBAR AL BAKER: For the time being, we do not see any shift in our passengers’ traffic. We are a premium airline, and we continue to attract more and more passengers thanks to our renowned quality. We transported in financial year 2009 some 14 million passengers and are expecting 16.5 million for the financial year 2011. Of course, if we see low-cost airlines eroding our market’s position, we will then replicate. I already put in place a low-cost structure ready to take off if necessary. It would fly with Airbus A320 or A321 to destinations that we do not serve in a 4-hour radius. And it could start operating within three months.

eTN: You benefit from an excellent image in terms of service. Are you able to further improve this quality?
AKBAR AL BAKER: Qatar Airways is among the three best carriers in the world according to Skytrax' annual poll, but my ambition is to be number 1. I would even like to get the ‘six-star’ status if there was this possibility. We will further improve our quality with the opening of our new airport in Doha and the delivery in the same year of our Airbus A380. They will both offer exceptional level of comfort.

eTN: Would you like to replicate Qatar Airways success in another carrier?
AKBAR AL BAKER: I want to concentrate on Qatar Airways’ development for the time being. Once we have reached our target, then we might consider investing into another carrier.

We view ourselves as part of the world community
Akbar Al Baker during Qatar Airways' press conference in Phuket (in the middle of the picture)

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