Qatar Airways chief stresses benefits of 24-hour airports

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Demand at European airports could be unlocked if they switched to 24-hour operation, argues Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker.

“The thing that is impeding Europe’s growth is that airports are locked up from 11 o’clock at night until 5.30 in the morning,” says Al Baker, whose airline is the operator of Doha’s new Hamad International airport. “This is a very, very critical time for east-west transfers and this is what we are catering for.”

Round-the-clock operation is to the benefit of airlines too, says Al Baker: “If you really look at the European carriers, they are growing; it’s not that they’re not growing. But they are not growing to the level we are growing because you can only grow if you are utilising your assets to the maximum.”

Al Baker says his airline can operate narrowbodies for over 13h per day – “very close to a low-cost carrier in Europe” but well ahead of the 8h that he suggests applies to the continent’s legacy carriers. Similarly, he says, Qatar can utilise a Boeing 777 widebody for 17h a day, whereas for European carriers are confined to 12-13h.

Al Baker acknowledges that is politically easier to run an airport 24h a day in Qatar than at, say, London Heathrow. “People are not making so much fuss about noise as in Europe,” he says. “If you live under the flightpath of an aeroplane, I assure you that over a period of time you wouldn’t even hear the aircraft passing over your house. In addition to that, today’s aeroplanes are so efficient vis-a-vis the noise emission, as soon as the aeroplane is out of the airport perimeter you’ll hardly hear them.”

He adds: “If there’s anyone that should make the biggest noise about this issue, it’s the Queen, because if you look at her palace in Windsor Castle, where she I’m sure every weekend goes, it’s exactly below the flightpath of the left runway.”

In reference to the debate on airport capacity options in the UK’s southeast, Al Baker suggests that the “national interest” must be considered. “If you don’t increase the airport size at Heathrow, or Gatwick, you’ll be overtaken by other airports which will then connect to [the UK] with high-speed train,” he says.