Qatar blames Delta for spoiling inaugural flight

06 June 2016

Airline’s A380 flight was not allocated a gate in Atlanta airport

A Qatar Airways A380 on its inaugural flight to Atlanta, Georgia was not allocated a gate on its arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport on 1 June, forcing passengers to take mobile stairs and shuttle buses to disembark.

Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar al-Baker was quick to assign the blame to US rival Delta Air Lines, which is headquartered in Atlanta and is one of three US carriers that has accused it, along with the UAE’s Emirates airline and Etihad Airways, of unfair business practices in violation of the existing Open Skies agreement.

The outspoken CEO told the Canada-based International Air Transport Association’s (IATA)’s annual meeting in Dublin on 2 June that the lack of gate allocation was “an absolute violation of the air-services agreement”, according to a report by US news agency Bloomberg.

Apart from passengers having to disembark remotely, Al-Baker also said suppliers at the airport failed to cooperate with the airline, forcing them to avail ground-handling services from another company.

Delta, however, denied obstructing the Qatari airline’s ability to park its aircraft.

It is understood the airport was unable to accommodate the bigger aircraft, with the request coming in long after the gates had been assigned through the normal application process.

Qatar Airways initially planned to use a Boeing 777 on the debut Doha-Atlanta flight, but changed its plans in late April to use the A380 instead, according to Bloomberg, citing a statement from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport. “That didn’t allow sufficient time to make the required operational changes,” the statement said.

It is understood the airport requires 60 days’ notice whenever an airline plans to use an A380. However, an email addressed to Al-Baker on 31 May from Atlanta’s interim airport manager said the facility will try to accommodate Qatar Airways’ request, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Qatar Airways is expanding, having increased its share in International Airways Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways, to 12 per cent in April, and to 15 per cent in May.

The company has signed up to become a launch customer for the much-delayed Airbus A320neo single-aisle plane. However, Al-Baker said Qatar Airways has cancelled its first order for an A320neo due to the plane manufacturer’s apparent failure to meet its contractual performance obligations.

Qatar Airways has placed an order for five A320neos, which is estimated to cost in excess of $536m. It had originally planned to purchase up to 80 A320neos as part of its expansion plan.

Airbus and A320neo engine-maker United Technologies Corporation, a unit of the US’ Pratt & Whitney, are said to have struggled to meet required performance standards, resulting in delays.

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