The big news for the airline industry from the first day of London’s World Travel Market came from a press conference for Qatar Airways, announcing a number of new initiatives and answering some searching questions from journalists. At a crucial time in the development of Qatar Airways Mr.Akbar Al Baker performed admirably for a packed pressroom in his role as the companies Chief Executive Officer and driving force.
Mr Al Baker began by running us through the story so far. Qatar Airways is the national carrier of the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar. It has become one of the world’s fastest growing airlines since the airline was re-launched in 1997 under his leadership. At the end of 2003 they were flying to 49 destinations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. By the end of 2005, they’ll be flying to at least 60 destinations. Impressive stuff.
Add to this a US$5.1 billion agreement with Airbus for an additional 34 aircraft, which will allow them to fly with a fleet of 52 Airbus aircraft by the end of 2008 plus a US$1.2 billion deal for two A380 ‘super jumbos’ which will become the flagships of the fleet when they are delivered in early 2009 and you start to see where the company is heading - bigger and better.
Qatar Airways is exhibiting with a dedicated stand for the first time at World Travel Market this year. They are clearly hoping to show London that they mean business, particularly as they announce that Gatwick is amongst the six new routes they are launching this winter from their operational hub in Doha. The new flights, operated by the state-of-the-art Airbus A330-200 aircraft, will complement the existing double daily flights between London Heathrow and Doha.
According to Mr Al Baker, “London is one of our prime markets where we have gradually increased capacity out of Heathrow over the years. The addition of Gatwick to our route network makes it even more appealing for business and leisure travellers, offering a wider choice of flights and connections to different parts of the world via Doha.”
The other five network additions are Beijing, Seychelles, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Yangon. In addition to an expanding list of destinations Mr Al Baker was keen to emphasis the quality that the airline offers under it’s ‘Taking You More Personally’ banner. We were shown some of the films that the company has produced to promote these aspects of its business and they made impressive viewing. Alongside this we were reminded that Qatar Airlines has received three Skytrax accolades this year. The ‘five-star’ ranking for airline service has only been awarded to two other carriers worldwide. The airlines cabin crew are fifth best worldwide and best in the Middle East according to a Skytrax survey. Finally the companies inflight entertainment, which includes audio and video on demand is ranked in the worlds top ten for the first time.
Following Mr Al Baker’s ‘on message’ promotional speech the floor was opened for questions from the press and these incorporated a range of enquiries from new routes to onboard internet, from Doha’s new airport to current oil prices. This last issue is a concern for the whole industry and would appear to be an obstacle to expansion in any airline business, particularly as Mr Al Baker was quick to point out that despite their position as the national airline of an oil rich country they receive no preferential treatment on prices, indeed they are often paying more at home than they do abroad. Though it is tough to predict how difficult oil pricing will make life for airlines in the next few years this press gathering yesterday left you in no doubt that Qatar Airways and their charismatic CEO will be working as hard as ever to come out on top.