Qatar Airways will launch services to the USA when the first of its Airbus A340-600s are delivered in September next year – although it is not yet saying to which cities.

Chief executive Akbar Al Baker says the new widebodies will have a “revolutionary” interior which will make them “the most luxurious airliners flying in the sky”.

Speaking to Flight International last week, Al Baker outlined more about the fast-growing airline’s expansion plans as it prepares to move to a purpose-built airport in Qatar’s capital Doha in 2009. The airline expects to sign an order for 60 Airbus A350s – announced at Paris in June – at next month’s Dubai air show, where it will also place its first Boeing orders for 777s – likely to be six -200LRs and 14 -300ERs – although Al Baker says “it is highly likely” some of the -200LRs will be freighters.

The airline wants to increase the percentage of its revenue it earns from cargo from “low double figures” to around a quarter. It operates one Airbus A300 freighter, but two of its A300s are being converted to cargo aircraft at EADS EFW in Dresden.

Qatar plans to take the number of cities it serves to 80 by the end of next year and Al Baker says the airline will continue its policy of developing new routes by launching with small aircraft such as Airbus A319LRs.

Other plans include opening a pilot training centre in Doha in 2007 – it currently uses Emirates-CAE Flight Training in Dubai – and establishing engineering training facilities with engine manufacturers General Electric and Rolls-Royce. A third-party maintenance joint venture is also possible, although “we are too busy to do it at this stage”, says Al Baker.

Al Baker, who wants to increase the proportion of Qatar’s passengers who begin or end their journey in the country from around 30% to 50%, is convinced there is room in the rapidly expanding Gulf market for Qatar and what Al Baker regards as its main rivals, Dubai’s Emirates and Etihad of Abu Dhabi. “Everybody is talking about why we need so many airlines. But all of us are prospering and there is enough business to go around,” he says.



Source: Flight International