Qatar Airways bucks trend with major expansion plans for 2009

Doha
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Qatar Airways aims to take advantage of the current turmoil afflicting the industry by continuing with its aggressive growth plans by redeploying capacity and entering new markets. This will include an assault on the Australian market using its new Boeing 777-200ER fleet and an efficiency drive.

The Qatari flag carrier’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker says that while "growth is slightly affected" the airline is "fairing better than other airlines" in the current difficult trading conditions. "On average our passenger loads over the last three months have been averaging just under 4% below the target set before the recession began," he says. "But before August we were positive against budget so the excess has more or less covered the downturn suffered in the last three months for our financial year ending 30 March."

Al Baker says that "every economic downturn has some positive sides" and Qatar Airways is "very clever at shifting capacity and having the courage to source new markets".

qatar 
 © Qatar Airways

The airline, which operates a fleet of 68 Airbus and Boeing aircraft and has a further 140 on firm order, will continue with its capacity growth plan which will see around one aircraft a month being added to its fleet. "We are not going to slow down. We are re-deploying our capacity, adding new destinations and increasing frequencies to existing points," says Al Baker.

Qatar Airways will begin serving its third US destination, Houston, this month, with 777-200LRs and will use the 259-seat, ultra-long-haul twinjets for direct flights to Sydney and Melbourne from October, subject to Australian government approval.

The airline’s first two 777-200LRs were delivered in February, and four more will arrive this year.

This year the airline will also add two more Indian points – Amritsar and Goa, as well as two undisclosed European cities, taking its total destination count to 88. It will also increase frequencies to eight destinations this year across its global network. Five from March: Geneva, Lagos, Manila, Muscat and Mashad (Iran), one from June: Kuala Lumpur, and two from October: Algiers and Tunis.

Qatar Airways has long-held ambitions to serve Australia and Al Baker says that there is already a bilateral in place between the two countries, but he still needs final approval from Australian government to launch flights.

The airline is responding to the current "downward pressure on fares by making our expenditure more efficient", he says. This means that the airline is implementing a "cost-cutting drive that will not impact our product, and putting efficiency systems in place to improve employee productivity".

One casualty will be the first class lounge in the airline’s A340-600s. "The lounge is not being used efficiently, so we’ll reconfigure the cabin and gain 44 economy seats," says Al Baker. This will see the overall seat count increase by around 16% to 310.