Qatar Airways prepares for war

25 February 2003
Any conflict in Iraq is likely to see Qatar Airways (QA)relocate its hub operations to the UAE. '[Although] we are in the safest place - there is nowhere more protected than Qatar - we are prepared to move out, and will transfer our services to Sharjah,' the airline's chief executive Akbar al-Baker said in London on 13 February.

The airline is expected to reduce capacity and is planning frequent shuttle services from Sharjah to Doha to handle non-transit traffic. The carrier maintains that the temporary measure will cause little disruption as about two-thirds of its passengers are bound for onward points from Doha.

In a further safety measure, QA has taken delivery of the first of three German mobile security systems that can be used to check travellers' baggage. The vehicles will be based on blacked-out, airport-apron passenger transit buses. 'We believe in securing the passengers and their bags before they board the aircraft,' said Al-Baker. QA has also brought catering services to Doha airport to provide better control over previously out-sourced supplies.

The airline lays claim to be among the world's fastest growing carriers, reflecting the rapid fleet build-up from a small base. This year, its fleet is forecast to grow by 40 per cent to reach 28 aircraft by the end of December, through the addition of eight aircraft: four new AirbusA320s, two A330s, a converted A300 freighter and its second A319CJ corporate jetliner. Four A320s and three more A330s are due to follow after 2003.

Al-Baker described the airline's order for two A380 very-large airliners as 'firm', although they do not yet appear among published orders from the European aircraft manufacturer. QA has also signed a letter of intent covering options for two more A380s. Further orders are on the cards: it is looking at aircraft with capacity of more than 300 passengers and details could be announced at the Paris air show in June.

Al-Baker said that the airline expects to carry 2.6 million passengers in the 12 months to 31 March 2003, a year-on-year increase of 45 per cent. QA has averaged 32 per cent annual growth in passenger numbers over the past five years and its 38-point network is set to grow to 50 destinations by the end of 2004.

QA is not expected to break even until 2008 or 2009. 'The government knows the losses, but they are acceptable and planned, so the shareholders will not get a shock,' Al-Baker said, adding that an initial public offering will be made after the carrier has posted two consecutive years of profit.

Al-Baker, who is also a member of the new Doha International Airport steering committee, conceded that the schedule for the greenfield development had slipped and that the estimated $1,000 million project was unlikely to be completed in time for the 2006 Doha Asian games. The appointment of an engineering consultant and project manager is awaited (MEED 17:1:03).

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