Qatar Airways Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker pledged to carry on adding routes in defiance of the Saudi Arabia-led isolation of its home country.

While the second-biggest Gulf carrier anticipates a “very negative year” in terms of earnings, the passenger tally should be close to what it was before the embargo, Al Baker said in a Bloomberg TV interview Thursday. The airline is opening new destinations to make up for the 19 lost in countries participating in the sanctions.

“We are not going to slow down,” the CEO said in Chiang Mai, Thailand, following his company’s first flight there. “This is exactly what Qatar Airways wants to prove — that the blockade is not going to have any negative impact on the airline vis-à-vis our growth.”

Routes won’t be opened just to “show the flag” but to serve genuine demand, Al Baker said, pointing to the Thai service’s 87 percent seat-occupancy level. People will be “very envious when they see how many new destinations we are announcing in order to defeat our adversaries,” he added.

Al Baker revealed in October that Qatar Air expects to post a loss for the 12 months through March after lifting net income 22 percent to 1.97 billion riyals ($535 million) the previous fiscal year. In addition to the scrapped routes, the carrier has had to divert some south- and west-bound services to avoid airspace closures, adding as much as 2 1/2 hours to journey times.

Lost Revenue

Qatar Air has lost almost 11 percent of its network and 20 percent of revenue since Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates initiated the embargo, he has said. They severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar on June 5, accusing the country of supporting Sunni extremist groups and Iranian-backed Shiite militants. Qatar denies the charge.

The airline is interested in raising its stake in Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., provided the move doesn’t “disrupt” the holdings of leading investors Swire Group and Air China Ltd., Al Baker said in Chiang Mai. The Doha-based airline announced the purchase of a near 10 percent stake in November in a bid to gain a foothold in East Asia.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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Photo Credit: Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker is pledging the airline will grow despite a Saudi-led blockade. He is pictured at a 2013 event to celebrate Qatar's joining of the OneWorld alliance. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters