Energized by the explosive growth in the Middle East air transport market, Qatar Airways has turned its attention to Scandinavia as it extends Boeing 787 services to Stockholm on August 1, to be followed a month later to both Copenhagen and Oslo.
At the recently concluded Paris Air Show, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker placed a firm order for a pair of Boeing 777-300ERs along with options on another seven in a deal potentially valued at $2.8 billion at list prices. “When we say options, we always make them firm orders,” he said. “Options [simply] give us the flexibility of moving up delivery dates.” He expects delivery of the first two early next year.
“The -300ER is a fantastic [aircraft],” said Al Baker, adding that the additions will allow new long-haul routes to the U.S. Abu Dhabi-based rival Etihad Airways has already replaced its Airbus A340-500s with 777-300ERs to New York, resulting in a capacity increase of 36.6 percent.
Starting June 15, Qatar Airways increased frequency ahead of the peak summer travel season on its Chicago-Doha route to daily flights on a 777-300ER configured with as many as 293 economy seats and up to 42 in business class. Qatar’s top destinations from O’Hare include Hyderabad and Chennai, India; Kathmandu in Nepal; Cape Town, South Africa; and Dubai in theUnited Arab Emirates, all via Abu Dhabi.
At the Paris show, Qatar Airways displayed its sixth and newest of sixty 787s on which it holds firm orders or options. Al Baker told AIN that he will likely convert some of the order slots to positions on 787-900s. “We have a large number of purchase rights,” he said. “We are talking to Boeing on availability of slots.”
Al Baker said the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration acted unfairly in grounding the airplanes after two occurrences of overheated lithium-ion batteries. “A new aircraft program always has teething problems,” he said. “The problem didn’t reappear… [It was] promptly resolved by Boeing.”
Qatar Airways holds 4.4 percent of the Indian market with bilateral traffic rights of 24,000 seats per week; it awaits word on a request to increase that number to 72,000. “India is a large market and a country on the road to being a superpower,” said Al Baker. However, he told AIN he wants no part of a private carrier in India.
Finally, Al Baker confirmed Qatar will join the OneWorld alliance in October, following completion of IT integration.