Qatar Airways: Managing ambitious expansion

by  — 20 January 2013

In 1997, the small regional carrier was relaunched under the mandate of His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who outlined a vision to turn QA into a leading international airline with the highest standard of service. In the same year, Akbar Al Baker was appointed chief executive officer (CEO) of QA.

Al Baker speaks with The Edge about Qatar Airways plans to join the oneworld alliance, and the recent decision to commence legal action against a construction company for their alleged failure to complete airport lounges at the New Doha International Airport on time. (image courtesy Qatar Airways)

Al Baker recalls, “I started my career as a civil servant in the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority. I worked at various levels until I was appointed CEO, and it was my mission to transform QA from a regional carrier to a world-renowned airline. Today QA flies almost 120 aircraft, and counting, covering more than 120 destinations on six continents. That is a huge leap from where we were 15 years ago.”

Al Baker tells The Edge that today’s QA is a world leader, not because it overcame the challenges but because of a clear vision of what the airline is and what it wanted to attain. “We have spent the last 15 years focused on achieving all the goals that we set out to accomplish. I do not see that as a challenge, I see it as a natural progression.” 

Al Baker’s vision was to become the best in the world, which it achieved twice in 2011 and last year, winning the Skytrax award for Airline of the Year, “My next priority will be the challenging part, which is to maintain this position.” Moreover, Al Baker is certain that once QA joins the Oneworld Alliance it will be on the advantage of their loyal customers, “we will give passengers more opportunities, more options and more access to partner airlines.”

Qatar Airways expansion

Al Baker explains that the achievements of expansion of 30 percent growth every year is based on confidence and credibility, which originates from the vision and a desire to connect the world with Qatar and vice versa. “We have focused on all facets of the business to make this vision a reality. Our significant annual growth is representative of all the new routes, new employees, and our constant stream of new aircraft joining the fleet. We are currently taking delivery of new aircraft every 15 days on average.”

Under Al Baker’s custodianship, the airline compiled one of the industry’s youngest fleets with the average aircraft under four years old, including various types of Airbuses, Boeings, and corporate jets. “We are proud to be the first airline in the Middle East to take delivery of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which we fly to destinations including Dubai, Kuwait, and daily to London Heathrow, with more 787s being introduced into our fleet during the year,” continues Al Baker. “We also expect to take delivery of Airbus A380 aircraft, 13 in total, starting from January 2014. We have orders worth more than QR182 billion for more than 250 aircrafts…It doesn’t mean we will operate 250 aircraft by the time the World Cup starts. We focus on renewing our fleet with new planes coming in, and older ones leaving.”

On November 12, 2012, QA received its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner at a special ceremony held in Seattle, United States. Al Baker says QA Dreamliners are the world’s first fully connected 787s with wireless facilities. “We chose the 787 Dreamliner as it is a revolutionary aircraft, its fuel efficiency, spacious interior and sound reduction, all in all, create economic efficiency and improved passenger experience.”

Furthermore, Al Baker tells The Edge that it is the airline’s philosophy and belief that all passengers receive five-star service and that it is not limited to customers in business and first class. “Travelling should always be a pleasant experience, and we want our customers to know that when they travel with us, whether it is economy or premium cabins, they will receive the best service. Our customers always come first, and as a result we are always looking for ways to improve.”

Al Baker adds that the recently introduced Boeing 787 Dreamliner offers economy class passengers substantial leg room, an award winning android touchscreen entertainment system, dynamic mood lighting, an air purification system and less cabin pressure, which allows for less fatigue. 

“And the one feature that seems to be quite popular with passengers is the large dimmable windows, which are more than 30 percent larger than those in  similarly sized airplanes, and larger than anything planned by the competition,” explains Al Baker. 

With regards to QA contemplating an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in the near future, Al Baker responds to The Edge, “We are not planning to issue an IPO due the current state of the global economy, perhaps this will be something to consider in the future.”

However, Al Baker says that QA intends to join the Oneworld Alliance in the near future, which will give them the opportunity to fly alongside some of the biggest and best brands in the industry. “When QA becomes part of Oneworld, our customers will gain access to the alliance’s global network. In addition, our Privilege Club frequent flyer programme, members will be able to earn and redeem rewards on any of oneworlds’s other carriers, and our network will be covered by oneworld’s market leading range of alliance fares.”

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