Qatar Airways’ chief steals the limelight at ITB, blasts sanctions and announces a big new expansion.
Causing a stir at ITB Berlin, Qatar Airways’ chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker was defiant in the face of continuing sanctions against his country, which he warned would push the carrier to “very large loss” for the year. But he also unveiled “aggressive expansion plans” with 16 new destinations.
Al Baker blasted the sanctions as a “challenge to civilisation” that has only strengthened the airline’s resolve to add more destinations.
Qatar Airways will be the first Gulf carrier to begin a direct service to Luxembourg, while other new routes include Tallinn, London Gatwick, Cardiff, Da Nang in Vietnam and an array of Mediterranean destinations.
Bodrum, Antalya and Hatay in Turkey, Mykonos and Thessaloniki in Greece, Valletta in Malta, Malaga and Lisbon are also on the to-do list, as are Cebu and Davao in the Philippines and Langkawi in Malaysia.
In addition, services to Warsaw, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Prague and Kyiv will increase to a double-daily frequency, while routes to Madrid, Barcelona and the Maldives will increase to triple daily.
“This is a direct reflection of our commitment to connect travellers across all corners of the world in a way that is meaningful and convenient to them,” Al Baker said.
“We are committed to continuing our ambitious growth strategy, in order to be able to provide our passengers with as much choice as possible and to take them anywhere in the world they wish to go.”
Al Baker spoke passionately about the blockade against Qatar imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt last June. It has had to scrap many short-haul routes to these states.
“During the blockade Qatar Airways continued its expansion; it continued its march ahead. We kept our country supplied and we became prouder as a nation.”
The restrictions will push the carrier to a “very large loss” for the year ending April 1, the chief executive warned, adding that it would need to find new streams of financing to survive as it has no access to the equivalent of US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That may include an equity injection, something the government is prepared for, he said.
No expense has been spared on the airline’s exhibition stand at ITB Berlin, however, which features a 360-degree digital screen wrapping around the entire stand showcasing its signature five-star journey.
Qatar Airways operates a fleet of more than 200 aircraft via its hub at Hamad International Airport. Last month, it took delivery of the world’s first Airbus A350-1000.