Qatar Airways’s interest in investing in African airlines extends only to those whose ownership projects a not altogether consistent trait on the continent: good governance, the Gulf airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, proclaimed during the recent Aviation Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
“We will invest where we can repatriate our funds,” he said. “We will invest in a country where there is stability and where there is a huge potential for profitability. We will look at the network of the airline and its performance before we invest.”
According to Al Baker, some African countries have offered investment opportunities for Qatar Airways but the airline declined all of them. “At the moment there is no ongoing negotiation. But if we have an opportunity, yes, we are interested in investing in Africa,” he said.
In reference to efforts by several African countries to launch national carriers, Al Baker flatly rejected any interest in startups. “We do not get involved in startups because we need to see how the airline is structured and operated,” he said. “We want to see the growth potential of the airline before we invest. So if it is a startup we would not be interested. The only startup we are interested in is our own domestic airline in India.”
Still, Qatar Airways, which operates 21 daily flights to 15 African countries, anticipates further expansion on the continent. “We feel that with a population of 1.3 billion, Africa is an underserved market,” said Al Baker. “This is a place where we could serve the African public. We want African people to get better value for money. When you have less capacity you demand high fares. I am not saying we are going to do charity in Africa. We will fly there with correct deals to give the passengers the best value for money. Not to use them.”
Al Baker revealed that Qatar Airways has delayed some expansion plans in western and central Africa due to the airspace blockade his country has suffered at the hands of four regional neighbors since June 2017. “Going around the blockade area increases our operation cost. We are trying to mitigate this and start growing in Africa,” he explained. “We will soon announce some new destinations.”
Some African airlines’ CEOs complain that the big three Gulf carriers have raided the African market at the expense of indigenous airlines. Al Baker refutes the allegation. “[African Airlines] cannot compete,” he said. “If they can not compete and stay ahead of the competition and if they cannot connect as we do, the problem is theirs, not ours,” he said. “Africa is a big continent with huge potential. The pie is big enough for all of us.”
Al Baker advised African states to revise their protectionist aviation regulations and lower exorbitant taxes. “Governments should not use aviation to get their coffers filled,” he said.
The outspoken chief executive noted his airline’s continuing growth despite the blockade. “We are ordering new aircraft while others are selling aircraft like chocolates and canceling orders,” he quipped.
Al Baker said his airline will announce new aircraft orders at June’s Paris Airshow. He declined to disclose the type and number of aircraft, however.