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New Competition in Saudi Arabia as Qatar Air Launches Airline

Jan 17, 2014 5:00 am

Skift Take

Instead of looking to Europe or Asia to expand, Qatar made a rather smart decision to get stronger in its home region.

— Jason Clampet

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Qatar Airways

An Al Maha lounge in Doha. Qatar Airways


Qatar Airways plans to build a fleet of 50 Airbus aircraft for a new Al Maha airline in Saudi Arabia that is slated to start operations no later than the third quarter with a focus on domestic and regional flights.

Al Maha will fly with 10 aircraft in the first year, before adding 10 to 15 annually until it reaches a strength of at least 50 Airbus narrow- and wide-body planes, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said in an interview today at the Bahrain airshow. The fleet will be a combination of Qatar’s own planes and leased aircraft, he said.

Saudi Airlines and budget carrier Flynas currently serve Saudi Arabia’s domestic market, and the duo will be joined by upstart Saudi Gulf that’s owned by conglomerate Al Qahtani Group, which announced at the show that it will introduce a full-service airline in Saudi Arabia after agreeing to purchase Bombardier Inc. CSeries narrow-body aircraft at the expo.

“There is huge demand,” Al Baker said at the Sakhir airbase in Bahrain. “It’s a big market. There’s room for the fittest. Others have to learn.”

Al Maha, which will have the same logo as Qatar Airways, only in green to match the colors of Saudi Arabia, will start with main domestic cities including Riyadh and Jeddah, using wide-body aircraft to absorb expected demand, Al Baker said.

“Keeping in mind that we have around 350 aircraft on order, we don’t have to shop for anything,” Al Baker said. “The only thing is that in the interim we may have to lease airplanes until we get our brand new aircraft delivered.”

Editors: Benedikt Kammel, Christopher Jasper. To contact the reporter on this story: Deena Kamel Yousef in Dubai at dhussein1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net. 

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