Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker struck a defiant tone in his commentary at Boeing’s delivery center in Seattle just before a September 25 ceremony to celebrate delivery of his airline’s first Boeing 747-8F freighter, calling the blockade of Qatar by its Persian Gulf neighbors an “illegal act” that nevertheless has served to boost the carrier’s cargo business. Sitting with Boeing vice chairman Ray Conner and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Kevin McAllister, Al Baker did acknowledge that the move by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to sever diplomatic relations and impose travel bans in June have cut Qatar Airways’s passenger traffic volumes by 10 percent. However, he expressed confidence that aggressive expansion outside those four countries would restore the airline’s traffic volumes to pre-blockade levels by the end of the year.
If fact, along with the purchase of two 747-8s, Al Baker announced an order for another four 777-300ERs in a deal that surely came as a welcome gesture to Boeing, which needs to sell more of the legacy 777s to complete the so-called bridge to production of the new 777X in 2020.
“It would be remiss of me not to mention the recent illegal blockade on my country and the potential impact this could have had on our cargo operations,” said Al Baker. “However, I’m pleased to tell you that today, in fact, the blockade has had quite the opposite impact on our business to the one intended.”
Al Baker reported that starting in early June emergency airlifting of food to Qatar resulted in a 160-percent increase in cargo business for Qatar Airways compared with the same period a year earlier.
He also noted that the new cargo hub in Doha scheduled to open next year will triple the airline’s cargo capacity, potentially prompting further orders for the 747-8F. “As a matter of fact, we have several more 777-200LRFs to be delivered,” said Al Baker. “These two 747-8s is in addition to previously ordered aircraft...There is a possibility that we could order additional 747-8s.” Qatar Airways’s cargo division now flies 12 Boeing 777Fs and eight Airbus A330Fs.