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Tue 28 Mar 2017 08:58 AM

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Qatar Airways CEO accelerates India push, plans new routes to UK

Qatar Airways chief says laptop ban not designed to hurt Gulf carriers

Qatar Airways CEO accelerates India push, plans new routes to UK
"As far as I am concerned it is a security measure and we have to comply with that." (ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

Qatar Airways may order 100 new jetliners before the end of
this year to power its push into India and also plans to announce two new
routes to the UK even as the country prepares to exit the European Union, CEO
Akbar Al Baker said.

The Gulf carrier is confident that a new aviation policy
mapped out by “futuristic” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will permit 100
percent foreign ownership of a domestic airline, Al Baker said Monday in

Qatar Airways is briefing lawyers in India and will seek
formally to establish the new airline soon, with a tender for aircraft to

“It could be this year,” the CEO told journalists after
addressing the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum. “It depends how fast we
can arrange our application.”

Al Baker revealed last month that he planned to set up an
Indian carrier with a fleet of 100 narrow-body jets, breaking into a
fast-growing market where local rules previously prevented full ownership by
foreign airlines. He said at the time that the Qatar Investment Authority could
fund the venture, leaving Qatar Airways to run it, though it’s not clear
whether such an arrangement would avoid the curb.

Qatar Airways is targeting an Indian foothold after Etihad
Airways of Abu Dhabi took a 24 percent stake in Jet Airways India Ltd. Leading
Asian carriers Singapore Airlines Ltd. and AirAsia Bhd. also have 49 percent
holdings in affiliates in the subcontinent, though no foreign operator has been
able to acquire full control.

UK Growth

Al Baker sought to use QIA to secure a position in discount
specialist Indigo during its initial public offering, but the fund failed to
gain the required approvals in time.

Qatar Airways’ expansion plans elsewhere include the
addition of two new routes to Britain, the CEO said at the investment event.
The carrier already offers 72 weekly services to the UK, where it serves
London’s Heathrow hub as well as Manchester and Birmingham in England and
Edinburgh in Scotland.

Al Baker said his company accepts that a ban on passengers
carrying large electronic devices aboard US-bound flights from a clutch of
Mideast and African nations including Qatar is a “security decision,” adding
that it’s too early to say if the measures will hurt business.

“I don’t think it is targeted at Gulf airlines,” he said.
“It is a decision made by the United States that we as an operator have to
follow. We have to comply and make sure that we don’t cause any inconvenience
to our passengers.”

Qatar Airways customers bound for the US are required to
surrender their laptops and other equipment when passing through security
screening, unlike those at Dubai-based Emirates, who can hang on to them until
the gate. Qatar Airways doesn’t plan to hand out loaner devices in the cabin,
something Emirates President Tim Clark has said may be an option.

“We don’t want to do anything that will violate the
directions we have received,” Al Baker said.

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