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Airbus are in favour – and receive another bullish order from Qatar Airways

29-Jun-2009
Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker
Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker
  • Fleet growth continues with new Airbus order, but Boeing B787 delays cause frustration
  • New corporate Jet subsidiary set to go
  • Profits will remain intact through this year
  • Is an LCC on the drawing board?
  • A new corporate charter jet subsidairy
  • Network expansion continues – Australia launch date announced

In a year when orders were down sharply, Airbus wrapped up the Paris Air Show with a solid if unspectacular 58 firm orders, marking, as expected, a steep fall from last year. Qatar Airways was an outstanding exception - placing a USD2 billion order for A320 family single-aisle jets, possibly to be used to counter ever-stronger regional LCC competition.

In addition to 19 A320/A321 family aircraft, Qatar Airways’ current fleet includes four A340-600s and the largest fleet of Airbus A330s in the Middle East with 29 aircraft.

Qatar Airways fleet in service and on order

Manufacturer

Type

 In Service

On Order

Airbus

A300

3

0

Airbus

A319

2

1

Airbus

A320

11

21

Airbus

A321

8

4

Airbus

A330

29

0

Airbus

A340

4

0

Airbus

A350

0

80

Airbus

A380

0

5

Boeing

777

8

19

Boeing

787

0

30

Bombardier (Canadair)

Challenger

1

2

Total

162

But Boeing is in Qatar Airways sights, as aircraft delivery delays continue

On the other hand, when speaking to reporters at the Paris Air Show Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, warned Boeing that the airline could scrap its order for B787s if the aircraft manufacturer doesn't quickly resolve issues related to delivery delays.

Al Baker said, "Boeing is doing things too late. If they don't play ball with us, they'll be in for a very serious surprise."  He said Qatar Airways has the right to "walk away" from the deal if "the delay is unreasonable" and threatened to become an all-Airbus operator.

Qatar Airways has 30 B787s on order, with options for a further 30. The airline is a major Boeing customer with an order book (including options) of more than 92 aircraft.

With deliveries of the aircraft already some two years later than originally scheduled, the much delayed first flight, promised for late Jun-2009, has now been delayed further, with Boeing yet to advise its latest amended timetable. Qatar Airways is yet to publicly respond to the likely further B787 production delays.

Qatar Airways expects to remain profitable through the Global Recession

IATA recently said Middle East airlines will be among the biggest losers globally in 2009, despite strong traffic growth, predicting carriers in the region could make an aggregate loss of up to USD1.5 billion, due to weakening traffic in key European and Asian markets – almost double the previous loss estimate.

This does not faze Qatar Airways. Mr Al Baker stated, “we were profitable in financial year to March 2008, we have been profitable in FY08/09 and we will be profitable in FY09/10… I do want to clarify that the 2009-10 profit is an estimated one, as we still have 10 months to go before our financial year gets over… But, again, we had a positive impact on our oil price due to our fuel hedging strategy.”

As Qatar Airways chooses to not publicly disclose its detailed financial results, such statements are as close as outsiders can go to understanding the health of the airline – which continues to enthusiastically grow its markets and its fleet fuelled by a remarkable economic performance in Qatar.

Middle East oil exporter economies’ real GDP growth (% change year-on-year)

Reiteration of a less than veiled warning to LCC competitors

Mr Al Baker has meanwhile warned that he is ready to "push the button" with a low-cost carrier offering to counter any threats from regional competitors. He has reiterated the warning to rivals, first issued last year, that Qatar Airways could be in the market with a low-cost operation within 90 days, if necessary.

Emirates' low-cost unit flydubai became the latest budget operation in the Gulf region when it launched services in Jun-09, joining the likes of Air Arabia, Jazeera Airways and Bahrain Air, with Qatar Airways clearly a little nervous at their combined potential impact.

Despite the growing threat, Al Baker says that the airline doesn't "want to get on to that band wagon", but adds that if its market comes under threat from a regional LCC, "then Qatar Airways will join the fashion show".

The airline has an Airbus A321 configured with 220 seats for use as a back-up aircraft, which Al Baker says has been used to discreetly test its low-cost model, and has now added its order for a further 24 A320 family aircraft to its potential armoury.

"So we are set to go within 90 days," he says. "I would like the regional low-costs to be wary not to intrude into our market with all this crap product. Otherwise we will immediately match them with a superior product, but, of course, with a crap yield like them."

“Qatar Executive” – new corporate jet offspring set to go

At the other end of the spectrum, Al Baker announced at the Paris Air Show, that Qatar Airways has established a subsidiary company, Qatar Executive, which is to operate on-demand corporate charter jet services from its base at Doha International Airport.

He said that the launch of Qatar Executive with three Bombardier aircraft was a unique offering for the region’s corporate market, as it was backed by its scheduled airline parent.

In addition to an already operating a Bombadier Challenger 300, two new Bombardier Challenger 605 aircraft are due to be delivered shortly - and will be able to fly non-stop sectors of up to 8 hours, reaching destinations throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.

The newly appointed Senior Vice-President of Qatar Executive. explained Captain Ted Button, stated, “the Middle East is under-served in the corporate aircraft segment, and utilising Qatar Airways as a model to build a new corporate jet venture is, I believe, the right way forward to capitalise on this key market segment”.

It would seem to be a timely exercise, as Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) statistics show that the corporate market in the Middle East has grown at an average of 13% annually since 2000. Nine years ago, there were 200 corporate jets based in the Middle East, growing to some 450 in 2008 - with estimates of further growth over the next few years.

The corporate jet market in the Middle East is estimated to be worth between USD500 million and USD700 million a year.

Individual wealth within the Gulf region is expected to grow by over 50 per cent during the 2008 – 2012 period, up from USD2.1 trillion to around USD3.8 trillion, according to consultancy Oliver Wyman.

Australia service launch date announced

 Qatar Airways has announced that it will launch its first service to Australia, with three weekly services from Doha to Melbourne from 06-Dec-09, with operations moving to daily in the new year. The services will be operated on new Boeing 777 long-range aircraft.

The connection is the first of two Australian routes that Qatar Airways plans to launch, along with new flights to Sydney at a date to be announced.

Mr Al Baker said, 'I know the travelling public is eager for us to begin serving Australia and I've had many people ask me about our direct routes to Melbourne and Sydney.  We're finalising some details with regulatory authorities in Australia and once we've received the necessary aircraft from Boeing, we will be ready to operate.'

Expansion on current and new routes continues

This year, Qatar Airways will expand its operations with the launch of a total of six new routes.  In addition to Melbourne and Sydney, Amritsar will be added from 11-Oct-2009 and Goa from 25-Oct-2009 - with two further, as yet unnamed, cities in Europe to additionally come on-line.

Qatar Airways currently operates 56 flights a week between Doha and India – with daily non-stop services to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Trivandrum, Cochin and Kozhikode. The addition of Amritsar and Goa will take Qatar Airways’ Indian frequencies up to 64 per week.

Services on existing routes will also rise, with the airline announcing it has increased weekly services to Turkey to 18, following the signing of an expanded bilateral air services agreement between Qatar and Turkey, with daily services to Istanbul and Ankara and a four times weekly service to Antalya.

Also, effective from the start of the Northern Winter schedule on 25-Oct-09, flights between Doha and Paris move to double-daily – up from the current 11 frequencies a week. Rival Emirates will deploy A380 equipment on its Dubai-Paris sector once daily from 01-Feb-2010. 

Background Information:

  • 50% Government-owned - but aim is 100% government ownership and three years of profit prior to full privatisation;
  • Founded in 1993 and launched operations in 1994; after several years of modest performance the carrier was reinvigorated and relaunched in 1997 with a new and more aggressive management under CEO, Akbar Al Baker;
  • One of the largest and most ambitious airlines in the Middle East, with a route network of some 90 destinations, and plans to expand its fleet by more than 100 aircraft over the next ten years;
  • Has ordered 80 A350XWBs and 30 B787s, and has more than 30 long-range B777s due to join its fleet over the next three years, as well as having 5 A380s on order for delivery from 2010.  A new order for 24 A320 family aircraft has now been added to this list.

 

 


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