Qatar Airways to roll out 15 new routes over a year

CEO of big-spending Gulf carrier says Perth, Belgrade among new destinations for 2012
Qatar Airways to roll out 15 new routes over a year
Qatar Airways iinked a $6.5bn Airbus deal at the Dubai show
By Elizabeth Broomhall
Sun 20 Nov 2011 08:20 AM

Qatar Airways, the second-biggest Arab carrier, plans to
roll out up to 15 new routes over the next year in a bid to increase its share
of the lucrative long-haul market.

“We are going to add three more new destinations within a
few weeks into Iran so that we serve that very large market in a very strong
way,” CEO Akbar Al Baker told Arabian Business.

“We are also planning to go to Perth, Zagreb, Belgrade,
Kiev, Helsinki, St Petersburg and many other destinations within the next 12 months.
Fifteen new destinations in the next 12 months.”

Qatar Airways is one of the world’s largest buyers of new
aircraft, last week adding five Airbus A380 superjumbos and 50 A320neos to its
order book in a $6.5bn deal with Airbus.

The carrier’s massive order book underpins its plan to serve
more than 120 routes by 2013 with a 120-strong fleet, as it seeks to make Doha
an international transit hub.

The airline continues to focus on “relentless expansion,”
said Al Baker. “On average, every 18 days it is growing by one new aircraft,”
he said.

Qatar Airways in October requested permission to ply
domestic routes in Iran, a move that would have seen the Doha-based carrier
become the first foreign airline to operate in the Persian state.

The carrier already services routes between Doha and the
Iranian cities of Tehran, Shiraz and Mashhad, but Al Baker said he thought it
was unlikely to receive permission to operate domestically.

“Every airline in this region would love to operate
internally in Iran but we are not an Iranian carrier,” he said. “They have
their own carriers, they are serving the market. We are a foreign operator, we
cannot operate internally.

“There is an intention to [persuade] them to allow us, but I
don’t think the domestic carriers will accept. As far as we are concerned we
are only going to increase frequencies between Qatar and Iran, and add

Despite the carrier’s petrodollar-backed spending spree,
Qatar Airways has not been immune to rising fuel costs. Oil prices peaked in
April this year above $127 a barrel as the civil war in Libya cut the country's
oil exports.

Fuel typically accounts for about 40 percent of an airline’s
costs and, alongside slowing global travel demand, has squeezed margins at some
of the world’s largest carriers.

Emirates airline, the world’s largest airline, said an additional
$1bn in fuel costs had contributed to a 76 percent slump in half-year profit to
AED827m ($225m).

Qatar Airways is already hedging a percentage of its fuel
needs, Al Baker said.

[We have] a successful and efficient fuel hedging strategy….
up to 2013 we are hedged,” he said. “You have to take risk; it may be positive,
it may become negative, but you have to take the risk.”

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