Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways is a graduate in Economics and Commerce and worked at various levels in the Civil Aviation Directorate before becomingQatar Airways’ CEO in 1997.Al Baker has spearheaded the growth of Qatar Airways, which operated only four aircraft in a regional capacity prior to his appointment. Qatar Airwayscurrently flies to over 100 destinations across six continents.He is also leading the development of the multi-billion dollar New Doha International Airport, which is scheduled to open by 2012.
Qatar Airways currently has placed orders worth over US$50 bn for more than 250 aircraft, including Boeing 787s, 777s, Airbus A350s, A380s and A320 Family of aircraft. In addition to winning Skytrax’s prestigious Airline of the Year 2011 and 2012, Qatar Airways was named Best Airline in the Middle East for the seventh year in a row, and its Premium Terminal at Doha International Airport was named Best Premium Service Airport for the second consecutive year in 2012.
Replying to Yash Ved of IIFL, Akbar Al Baker says, "The airline plans to serve over 170 destinations worldwide with a fleet of more than 170 aircraft by 2015."
How do you see the Indian aviation industry shaping up going ahead?
Indian aviation sector has witnessed a phenomenal growth in the last decade. The various reforms and initiatives undertaken by the government in this sector coupled by growth of the Indian economy in the last few years has led to a huge change in the Indian consumer’s travel preferences and aspirations.
Travel is no longer just about connectivity but about providing a holistic experience. This change in trend combined with a rise in the number of Indians flying overseas for business and leisure purposes has been growing steadily over the years and has opened up great opportunities for international airlines like us.
How are you dealing with the high price of ATF?
At the moment, every dollar increase in oil price hits $30 million of the bottom line of QatarAirways. So, even a little shift in oil prices does severely affect us and as we grow this will only increase. If any aircraft offers savings in fuel consumption, Qatar Airways will be looking at it. This is the reason why we keep investing in new-generation aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. New planes and engines will definitely benefit revenue generation because airlines work with very low margins. It’s not only about fuel consumption; newer aircrafts will also help in reducing carbon emission.
What are your plans for new destinations?
We announced the launch four new gateways in the past two months to travellers which includes Warsaw in Poland effective from December 5, Gassim in Saudi Arabia effective from January 7th, 2013, Najaf in Iraq effective January 23rd, 2013, Phnom Penh in Cambodia effective February 20th, 2013, Salalah in the Sultanate of Oman effective May 22nd, 2013 and Chicago in USA effective April 10th, 2013. Besides this, we have started flights to Maputo in Mozambique and Belgrade in Serbia. All flights from our 12 points in India connect to these destinations via our hub in Doha.
Comment on your fleet expansion plans? Are you planning to induct new aircraft in FY13?
We have seen rapid growth in just 15 years of operation, currently operating a modern fleet of 112 aircraft to 120 key business and leisure destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, North America and South America. With an expanding network covering 6 continents, India is one of our key networks with 95 flights per week from 12 cities which seamlessly connect to various destinations in Europe, Middle East, North and South America via Doha.
As an industry leader, Qatar Airways strives to be the best in all that we do and are committed to provide a luxurious and comfortable travel experience to our passengers.
We are delighted to announce that we have taken the delivery of our first Boeing 787 Dreamliner this week. This marks a milestone in Middle East aviation with Qatar Airwaysbecoming the first airline from the region to take delivery of the 787. We have 60 Dreamliners on order with deliveries planned over the next few weeks, months and years.
Boeing has crafted a state-of-the-art aeroplane, designed to be yet another asset to excel our signature Five Star service in the sky to all our passengers across the Middle East and around the world.
What are your investment plans?
The airline plans to serve over 170 destinations worldwide with a fleet of more than 170 aircraft by 2015. Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing carriers in the world with phenomenal route expansion averaging 30% growth year to year. The Indian aviation market is seen as an area of huge opportunity and potential and we plan to leverage the growth story in India. Our plan is to increase investments and engagement in this region in the coming years.
We will continue to invest in key initiatives to strengthen our footprint across the country. Owing to our aggressive growth strategy and underlining the significance of the Indian market for Qatar Airways, we plan to seek more landing rights in India, incorporate new destinations to our list, enhance capacity on the current routes served and recruit more people including cabin crew here.
Are you planning to launch routes more in US markets?
In keeping with our aggressive growth plans, we will continue to introduce newer routes in the coming months. Chicago will be a key market for India to where we are launching flights from April 10th, 2013. This is in addition to other North American gateways – New York, Montreal, Washington and Houston.
Are you planning to join oneworld alliance?
Qatar Airways is delighted to have been invited to join oneworld, which will provide extensive benefits to our passengers and to oneworld passengers, bringing not only another airline to the alliance, but also a great new travel experience for those who have not flown with QatarAirways before. This is by far the biggest aviation industry story of the year so far.
We are the first of the major Gulf carriers to officially join a global alliance having been invited into the oneworld group.
The alliance will see coordination of flights, schedules and systems of Qatar Airways operations with member airlines to offer all oneworld passengers with improved routings, connections and travel convenience through alliance hubs around the world.