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Qatar Air and its gulf peers are making for interesting watching as their similarities recede, while they execute different strategies in the region and out.
Qatar Airways, one of the big three Persian Gulf carriers that reshaped the global airline landscape, is making big strides to strengthen its game-changing role.
Fresh from being formally inducted into the Oneworld alliance on Oct 29, the fast-growing flag carrier of the state of Qatar is once again on a jet-buying spree, adding to more than 250 aircraft on order worth over US$50 billion.
The airline looks set to soon move into Doha’s new $15.5-billion airport, which will play a critical role in Qatar’s aggressive growth plan, now that further delays for the state-of-the-art facility are not expected.
Qatar is the first of the big three Gulf carriers to join a global alliance, reflecting the changing business landscape.
But Qatar chief executive Akbar Al Baker reckons that most airlines will have to join an alliance eventually.
“Alliances are playing an increasingly important role in the airline industry today, and that will continue long into the future,” he said.
Qatar sees its entry into one of the world’s three biggest alliances as strengthening its competitiveness and increasing customer appeal by providing global networks served by partners from every region.
Qatar’s membership also makes Oneworld the top global alliance in the Middle East, the world’s fastest-growing region for air travel.
Qatar is looking to leverage its membership to jockey for a bigger slice of the transatlantic market.
Oneworld chief Bruce Ashby says Qatar will significantly improve the alliance’s connectivity between many of the destinations that are important to customers.
The state-owned airline, which serves more than 130 destinations in 70 countries across the Middle East, Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australasia, is Oneworld’s second member airline in the Middle East, after Royal Jordanian joined in 2007.
Priding itself on a five-star quality rating, the 16-year-old carrier adds 21 new cities to Oneworld, bringing the alliance’s total destinations above 900.
With other carriers such as Brazil’s TAM, Sri Lankan Airlines and US Airways lining up to join, Oneworld will:
- Serve almost 1,000 airports in more than 150 countries with 14,000 daily departures.
- Carry 475 million passengers a year on a combined fleet of some 3,300 aircraft.
- Generate $140 billion in annual revenue.
Qatar joined Oneworld just one year after receiving an invitation sponsored by British Airways, a founding member of the alliance that formed in 1999.
Qatar’s induction into Oneworld as the 13th member was one of the fastest in the alliance’s history; the process usually takes 18-24 months.
Qatar’s membership comes at an interesting time for the top Gulf carriers.
Emirates, the biggest airline in the Gulf, has formed a five-year bilateral pact with Qantas, a Oneworld founding member, while Etihad has embarked on a strategy of forming direct alliances and taking equity stakes in carriers _ including a 29% stake in Air Berlin, which joined Oneworld in March 2012.
Mr Baker said the airline will place another plane order during the Nov 17 Dubai Airshow, billed as one of the largest industry events in the region.
“I won’t tell you what the order is, but there will be one,” he told reporters last week amid speculation of further contracts for Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
He said the airline was awaiting more information on the larger follow-up version of the Boeing 777, dubbed B777X, before committing to the aircraft set to be unveiled later this month.
The Gulf’s third-biggest carrier has 52 787s on order and already operates the aircraft.
Mr Baker said the airline is not keen to buy any more Airbus A380 double-deckers, adding that it has 13 of such jets on order, the first of which is to be delivered in April next year.
He expressed confidence that Airbus could start delivering A350s to Qatar in the second half of next year.
Qatar is the launch customer for the A350 wide-body jet, which undertook its first test flight this year and is set for commercial service at the end of 2014.
The airline has ordered 80 A350s, which compete with both the Dreamliner and the larger 777.
Qatar’s order books also include 14 B777s, 80 A320 Neos and one A320.
There are 130 aircraft in the current fleet, one of the world’s youngest at an average age of four years. Last year Qatar flew 12 million passengers.Moving house
The carrier expects to move all of its operations to the delayed Hamad International Airport in early 2014, a shift that will not only support Qatar’s growth but also strengthen Doha’s role as a premium global air hub.
A symbolic Qatar flight on a B777-300 with Oneworld livery landed at the new airport on Oct 29 to mark the carrier’s entry into the alliance and affirm the airport’s readiness for service soon.
Some finishing touches remain to be carried out, including in the lounges.
Hamad will be able to handle 28 million passengers a year, before capacity is raised to 50 million annually in three years.
The airport, a few kilometres from Doha, spans 22 square kilometres, about a third of the capital city in size. Some 60% of it was built on land reclaimed from the Persian Gulf.
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