It was major air show time again during Paris in June and Qatar Airways once again took its place among the headline makers. Seldom has a Farnborough, Paris or Dubai air show passed of late without a major announcement from the Doha-based carrier. This time at Le Bourget it was an order for 24 Airbus A320s - including the conversion of four existing options. While maybe not as eye-catching as its major widebody orders of recent years, it was still enough to grab the headlines - at least until Tony Fernandes and AirAsia X - took their place in the sun with an order for 10 A350s.
For chief executive Akbar Al Baker, Paris provided the chance on a major stage to show Qatar Airways has no intention of giving up on its long-term vision.
“As far as we are concerned, Qatar Airways has a long-term vision and a long-term strategy we are implementing," Al Baker said, during a round table briefing at the Paris air show. "We know there is a downturn in the economy, but Qatar has weathered these challenges very well. We are very focused on what we want to achieve. Qatar Airways has grown in passenger numbers both in April and May, we are right on target, and we see if we deploy our capacity correctly in the markets with the correct size of aircraft with correct frequencies, there is still demand.
"There is downward pressure on yields [for everybody]," he concedes, but insists he won't go chasing traffic. "With a certain yield, if we have just a 60% load factor, we will not then try to dilute and try to get a 100% load factor, because once you do that and drop your yield to unacceptable levels just to get passenger numbers, you are not only hurting the yield, but you are also increasing the cost because every passenger you carry you have more fuel burn, you need more catering."
A further new initiative, unveiled during the show, is the creation of a new corporate jet subsidiary, Qatar Executive, initially deploying two Bombardier Challenger 605s and one Challenger 300 on routes out across the Middle East, Asia and Europe for the premium market.
"In the not too distant future we will add some more," he adds. "We have seen there is demand in the Middle East. Since 2002 there is 20% growth in executive travel and we see this will continue to grow over the next three/four years. So we are positioning ourselves for this growth. There is a clear opportunity for Qatar Airways to capitalise on this trend."
He is undeterred by the current economic crisis. "Despite the current global economic climate, there remains a strong need for the corporate to conduct face-to-face business meetings in the shortest possible time, so travel is still important as is time management," he says.
Al Baker would not be drawn on how large the new executive jet subsidiary could become. "At the moment we are small, we will want to be not too big, but in the end it will depend on how successful we are in our business plan," he says.
For more from Al Baker during the show, check out his warning to Boeing to resolve 787 delay issues and his message to any budget carriers considering entering the Qatar market.
Click here for our full 2009 Paris air show coverage.