Qatar Airways suffered a near-9% decline in passenger numbers during its last financial year, as the airspace blockade took a toll on traffic flow over its Doha hub – but group chief executive Akbar Al Baker says year-on-year traffic is now averaging double-digit growth.
The ongoing ban, implemented overnight on 5 June 2017, prevents Qatar-registered aircraft overflying the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. It resulted in the immediate suspension of services to 18 destinations.
The airline's annual report discloses that in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, passenger numbers declined to 29.16 million, from just over 32 million in the previous 12 months – a fall of 8.9%. This came after years of consistent double-digit growth.
Al Baker says the blockade initially had a devastating impact, but the airline quickly moved to mitigate the damage. "We lost nearly 20% of our capacity and 12% of our network. But we found new markets," he tells FlightGlobal.
The 18 destinations removed as a result of the blockade have been offset by 24 new routes, he says.
"When you now compare June, July and August, we have grown 11% year-on-year compared with the first three months of the blockade.
"We will continue to increase frequencies into our network and find new destinations."
The cargo side of business has flourished, as the airline initially served as an "air bridge" to supply Qatar's domestic needs and has expanded capacity during the year. It will have 25 freighters in service by year-end.
"I'm proud to say that in the first nine months of this year, Qatar Airways is now the largest air-cargo operator in the world in terms of freight tonne-kilometres. We were number two," Al Baker says. The airline says it has displaced local rival Emirates.
In September, Qatar Airways reported a full-year group pre-tax loss of QR156 million ($43 million) and a net loss of more than QR251 million for the year to 31 March 2018, compared with the previous full-year profit of QR2.9 billion.