Farnborough Air Show

Despite Gulf Blockade, Qatar Sees Opportunities for Growth

 - July 16, 2018, 6:00 AM
Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, became sitting IATA Board of Governors chairman in early June.

While importing domesticated animals may not be the kind of image the Middle East’s top airlines seek to portray, that’s exactly what happened in the case of Qatar Airways last year, when up to 60 flights were arranged to transport 4,000 cows to help local magnate Moutaz Al Khayyat set up a dairy farm. Baladna ("Our Country") was established to stem a dearth of milk products caused by an Arab boycott.

Qatar claimed to have become self-sufficient in dairy products by the beginning of fasting month Ramadan in mid-May, while Baladna is expected to quintuple its herd to 20,000 by 2019 with both airborne and seaborne cattle consignments, launch an IPO, and turn Qatar into a net dairy exporter.

Tit-for-tat suspension of flights by Qatar Airways to destinations in the countries of neighbors imposing the blockade on the one hand, and by regional airlines Emirates, Etihad, flydubai, Bahrain’s Gulf Air and EgyptAir to and from Doha on the other, had been the initial consequence of the embargo imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt on June 5, 2017.

Although it has rarely admitted it, Qatar Airways is fully involved in the nationwide drive for self-sufficiency prompted by the boycott. However, the additional MRO and fuel costs involved in flying longer distances to skirt the neighboring countries are believed to have resulted in “substantial” losses for the airline in the fiscal year to March 31, after it made a profit of $541 million the previous year.

Qatar Airway’s pugnacious CEO, Akbar Al Baker became sitting IATA Board of Governors chairman in early June, and used the occasion of the organization’s annual general meeting in Sydney, Australia, to make pointed yet restrained remarks about the boycott.

“To be nominated to such a prestigious leadership position in the industry is a great honor, made all the more pertinent in a year in which Qatar Airways itself was faced with an illegal blockade, closing off international airspace in our own region,” he said. “I look forward to continuing my work in the coming year for a transparent and fair aviation industry the world over, a sector which will only continue to grow in the years ahead, and one in which I am most proud to work and represent the world’s best airline.”

In April, Qatar Airways announced that it had signed a deal with Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport, Russia’s third largest airport, “to potentially acquire up to 25 percent of the airport’s total shares.” The airline already owns 20 percent of International Airlines Group, 10 percent of LATAM Airlines Group, 9.94 percent of Cathay Pacific, and 49 percent of Air Italy, with which it announced a code share earlier this year to access six Italian cities.

Earlier this year, the airline also launched a "Super Wi-Fi" high-speed broadband service using Inmarsat’s GX Aviation technology. “The broadband service is being progressively rolled out on all Boeing 777sand Airbus A350s,” it said. Qatar Airways also uses Inmarsat’s space-based tracking system to track all its flights worldwide.

In March, the airline announced 16 new destinations to be launched in 2018-19: Luxembourg; London Gatwick; Cardiff, Wales; Lisbon, Portugal; Tallinn, Estonia; Valletta, Malta; Cebu and Davao in the Philippines; Langkawi, Malaysia; Da Nang, Vietnam; Bodrum, Antalya, and Hatay, Turkey; Mykonos and Thessaloniki, Greece; and Málaga, Spain. 

The airline operates the B787, A350, A380, A319 and “select A320 and A330 aircraft.” Its cargo fleet includes eight Airbus A330 freighters, 13 Boeing 777 freighters, and two Boeing 747-8 freighters.

Today, Qatar Airways operates more than 200 aircraft via its hub, Hamad International Airport (HIA). In February, the airline took delivery in Doha of the first Airbus A350-1000, for which it was the global launch customer.