Article Written by Tomos Howells, Produced by James Field
LONDON – Following the launch of the Cardiff-Doha service by Qatar Airways this week, Airways and other media outlets got the chance to sit down with H.E. Akbar Al Baker as well as the First Minister of Wales to ask them some questions about this route and what the future holds for the Cardiff and Welsh markets.
There is no doubt that Qatar Airways is making waves in the aviation world despite the blockade that has been imposed on them by the Other Gulf states. Al Baker described it as “illegal” and said that the plans for Qatar in the future were “growth, growth, and growth”.
In the year of the blockade, Qatar launched flights to 11 new destinations where they won multiple awards also.
Qatar Opens Wales
In light of Qatar’s opening flight to Cardiff, Al Baker said that Qatar’s “permanent commitment to Wales” would work alongside with the addition of a new route in three weeks time from Gatwick to Doha.
The plans for growth are also shown in their fleet with Qatar taking a delivery of a new plane once every 10 days on average. In just the last week alone the airline has taken delivery of one A380, one A350-900XWB and one Boeing 777.
With an average age of their 220 aircraft fleet coming in at just 5 years they also host one of the youngest fleets in the world.
@qatarairways is here! It was fantastic to welcome the inaugural flight from Doha today, exciting times lie ahead as passengers can now travel to over 150 connections worldwide! #WalesToTheWorld pic.twitter.com/63QRkaHswP
— Cardiff Airport (@Cardiff_Airport) May 1, 2018
The Cardiff to Doha route currently has five flights scheduled on it but it will become a daily service in mid-July where the route will be operated by one of Qatar’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
Cardiff will be Qatar’s 5th UK destination alongside, Manchester, Heathrow, Birmingham, and Edinburgh.
UK Expansion Not Over
Qatar currently operates 79 flights a week to the UK and when asked if their UK expansion was complete, Al Baker simply replied “no”.
Qatar clearly has plans to strengthen their position in Cardiff with Al Baker saying “that potentially in the future a larger plane may be able to operate this route, such as the A380, this is something that the wanted to do for the first flight, but the airport’s limitations stopped us. This is why the A350-900XWB was used, it was also selected to allow Qatar Airways to showcase the A350 which was built in Wales and then made in France by Airbus.”
The people of Wales now have access to direct flights to Doha and onwards to more than 150 global destinations! pic.twitter.com/KDKRFg2BzX
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) May 2, 2018
Before the end of the financial year of 2016/2017, Qatar placed an order worth $20.2 Billion with an order list of more than 200 aircraft with Boeing alone. Al Baker was keen to remind everyone that the majority of these deliveries are for fleet replacement purposes, “The plan for Qatar is to make sure their average age fleet doesn’t go above 5 years.”
Qatar also has the largest order for the A350-1000 with an order of 37 on this type. The plane is one of the most fuel-efficient planes ever built, which is powered by the Trent XWB variant that produces 97,000lbs of thrust. It has for the first time on a plane produced by Airbus a six-wheel buggy, carries 44 more seats than the A350-900XWB is 23 feet longer also, it also has a four percent higher wing surface allowing for better fuel efficiency alongside the engines.
Qatar is also looking to expand their ground handling services business QAS with an aggressive expansion planned for 3 new destinations across the globe one which with the Air Italy Hub in Milan Malpensa of which Qatar has a 49 percent ownership of.
After Al Baker’s presentation, the floor was given to members of the media to ask some questions regarding Cardiff, the airline and the plans for the future.
Airways: What is the update on the Boeing 777X updates and will that plane be used on this Cardiff route?
Al Baker: The program is advancing very well, Boeing is a few months behind schedule but they will catch up and the first flight of the new plane will take place on schedule.
We are still designing the products that will be placed inside of these planes, it will be an improvement on the Q-Suite as all our aircraft will have the Q-Suite, we are confident that we will not need to change anymore on the concept.
The 777X, unfortunately, has certain characteristics which will require a complete redesign of the airfield in Cardiff. For me it will be step by step, we have bigger aircraft than the 777X so we could always switch to that and I have been told there are plans for developing the airport further and once that happens we will see, we are still 2 years away but you know things change very quickly in aviation so we will see.
It will be very hard to get the interest up for such large planes but we are confident that it may be an opportunity. You know whenever you go to a new destination as an airline you create a market and that is what we are doing here. Travel is all about exploration, I am sure the people of my country will want to experience and taste Welsh culture.
A: Why did you choose Cardiff over Bristol, what category of the passenger are you going to fill your planes with and what sort of freight and cargo are you going to be bringing in?
AB: First of all, I do not get charmed by anybody, no one in the industry has ever been able to do this, I will only ever do what is the best for my airline and what is the best for my country, we will work very hard to make this a success.
There are certain drawbacks of Bristol Airport compared to Cardiff. In addition, we see that Cardiff has a bigger catchment for people than Bristol, rest assured we are not here for photographic opportunities, nor are we here just to show our tail, we are here to conduct a business and to broaden our destination portfolio with the power Qatar has to make people travel.
The Cardiff Airport Chairman, Roger Lewis added to that answer by saying:
We now have a catchment of 6.4 million people in this area with 1.5 million people traveling down the M4 every year to catch flights to the Gulf, you can only travel to the gulf from the south of Birmingham, London and now Gatwick.
We have this golden triangle of opportunity for the United Kingdom for the south part of our whole country to fly to the Gulf. The 787 Dreamliner has the option of carrying 10 tonnes of freight so that would be 20 tonnes daily movement of freight on Qatar Airways flights in and out of Cardiff.
A: With your part ownership of IAG and IAG now owning a part of Norwegian, will Qatar Airways back IAG if it makes a move for Norwegian?
AB: First of all we will not interfere with how IAG conducts its business. Secondly, if IAG wants to take a larger stake in Norwegian it will be after exceptional diligence and Qatar Airways will always support IAG in anything they do, because it is a business in which we have a strategic interest.
We are not a hedge fund, we are an airline in which to hold our stake in IAG for good, so whatever they do to expand their business we will support.
A: Why does it make sense to fly to so many Secondary airports, such as Cardiff?
AB: Secondary airports is where the business is. As you know, main airports markets have already been saturated and are over capacity and restrictions in slot timings, so the option is to go to secondary airports which have plans and opportunity for growth.
We look for passengers and freight, this is what the airline is all about. We are not just here to showcase our product. We are here to bring people onboard and disembark people in big numbers and carry business which is freight and if the freight shows a very positive growth, Qatar Airways will not hesitate to start operating freighters.
A: Any update on the C-Series?
AB: We are currently not interested in the C-Series but when we launch other airlines we might look at them, but it’s not just the C-Series we will also look at Embraer who make a very compatible product and once we get that we will keep our options open to look at the A319neo, C-Series or Embraer aircraft, and there could be a possibility for us to look at Russian or Chinese planes (Sukhoi and Irkut).
They are both making good airplanes and I am sure both Russia and China will improve further with the technology they are deploying in those aircraft and Airbus and Boeing should know there are other manufacturers out there and they are not in nobody’s pocket and nobody has the monopoly in that section in the requirement of airlines.
It appears that Qatar Airways is looking to continue their expansion, regardless of any political implications that are ongoing domestically in Doha as well as reaching out new opportunities for the far smaller airports so then there is a higher chance of competition within the airport world.
For the local areas, this is the key to economic prosperity. With the huge business, passenger and cargo links that Qatar Airways can provide to the city of Cardiff, they will be looking to capitalise on that and get the brand of the city out there and encourage the boost in tourism that the country needs on the international front, not just on the well-covered domestic front already.