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Qatar Airways CEO plays down threat of competition

  • Qatar Airways CEO ‘very excited’ by Saudi aviation growth
  • Saudi Arabia launching Riyadh Air and Neom Airlines
  • Qatar adding 8 destinations, Al Baker tells Arabian Travel Market

The CEO of Qatar Airways has said he is “very excited” by the growth of Saudi Arabia’s aviation industry, despite the prospect of tougher competition as regional airline capacity increases.

“We will co-operate with them, we will support them, because we feel that relationships matter and there is a lot of business to go around for everybody,” Akbar Al Baker told a press conference at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

The Middle East already has, among others, industry giants Emirates and Etihad in the UAE, as well as Gulf Air in Bahrain, Kuwait Airways, Oman Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia).

In March Saudi Arabia announced the creation of two new airlines: Riyadh Air, which is wholly owned by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, and Neom Airlines.

Riyadh Air, in particular, is likely to pose a challenge to the region’s carriers. It has announced goals to connect Saudi Arabia to more than 100 destinations by 2030 with an aircraft order book to match.

It comes as the kingdom hopes to boost the number of passengers through its 29 airports from 100 million to 330 million by the end of the decade, as part of its Vision 2030 aim for tourism to generate 10 percent of GDP.

Al Baker said: “We wish them all the best.”

He added that Qatar Airways had recorded a 21 percent increase in flights for July 2023 versus July 2022. The carrier is flying to eight new destinations this year and resuming services to 12 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East and South America.

Qatar Airways plane on the runwayQatar Airways
Al Baker says regulators have held up Qatar Airways’ plans to grow its fleet

The Qatari carrier flies to 177 destinations although Al Baker, often an outspoken critic of manufacturers, blamed regulators for holding up aircraft deliveries. He described these delays as “really unnecessary” and said they could stifle the company’s growth.

He said: “We could add 85-90 destinations depending on the deliveries we’re expecting. Hopefully the regulators will co-operate with the supply chain of Boeing in order for us to get the aircraft.”

In March, European plane maker Airbus reinstated orders for 73 aircraft from Qatar Airways after revoking them during a dispute over damage to the surface of grounded A350s.

At the end of January, Airbus and Qatar Airways reached an “amicable agreement”, averting a rare and potentially damaging trial in the English courts.

“We will also start receiving aircraft from Airbus in the not-too-distant-future,” said Al Baker.

However, he told the media briefing the airline had no intention in investing in Air Serbia – the two signed a codeshare agreement in January.

“We have invested in airlines that have synergies with Qatar Airways in order for us to feed into each other,” he said.

“We do not have any intentions in Air Serbia although we are always open to do codeshare with each other.”