DALLAS – On November 20, 2022, the entire world will direct its eyes to the Middle East as the most famous sporting event in history takes place—the FIFA World Cup will be disputed in Qatar.
The event will be the biggest source of income in Qatar’s history and will serve as a form of advertising for the country. Before its election in 2010, this tiny peninsula with a population of just over 1.7 million was not well-known. Now, there is certainly no one in the world that has not heard about Qatar.
However, this means that Doha, the capital, will face the biggest wave of tourists and visitors to the country ever. Apart from the organization of the tournament itself, Qatar needs to handle the incoming flights transporting fans, football clubs, and executives.
We take a look at the air logistics of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the MATAR FIFA 2022 Airport Operations Strategy (AOP), first presented in 2021.
Preparing Hamad International Airport
According to the Qatar Company for Airports Operation and Management (MATAR), the prediction of new visitors to the country due to the FIFA World Cup, including fans, event workforce, and clubs, will rise to 1.8 million people.
Translating this information to the air traffic, MATAR estimates the peak day of arriving visitors will reach 88,000 passengers on kickoff day. If we distribute the arrival flow of passengers on Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, the most common wide-body in Doha-Hamad (DOH), we would need 235 Triple Sevens to support the demand.
This, added to the regular 490 arrivals at the airport every day, would mean a rise of 50% in traffic flow. Today, the airport can accommodate this number of passengers. But for a while, it couldn’t.
MATAR announced in October 2019 an expansion of the main passenger terminal at DOH to increase the capacity of the airport from 24 million to 58 million. This new enhancement was inaugurated as late as November 10, barely in time for the start of the tournament.
During the ceremony, the airlines’ affairs consultant of the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, Ahmed Rihan, stated that “Extra capacity has been added to the air traffic management system to accommodate around 100 flights per hour, and the number of air routes has been increased to 17.”
The Important Role of Doha’s Second Airport
Doha International (DIA) is the second airport to receive the majority of non-regular flights to Qatar. DIA will also undergo considerable modifications to relieve the pressure for DOH.
Under the FIFA 2022 AOP, DIA has received an additional refurbishment with the goal of accommodating up to 4,000 arriving and departing private passengers every hour, or 64,000 every day.
As those private and business passengers are taken from DOH, including the arrivals of executives for the World Cup, DIA benefits from the lack of transferring passengers from the regular Qatar Airways traffic, which makes it much easier to coordinate and monitor the incoming flights.
Doha International Airport will then need to be upgraded to a “Level 3 airport.” This categorization means that the number of daily arriving flights to DIA will increase to a point where a mandatory organization by slots is to be implemented.
Normally, DIA is categorized as Level 1, so climbing two levels on the slot category will be an interesting challenge for air traffic controllers and managers there, as are not accustomed to this non-standard functioning of the airport.
The Arrival of the National Clubs
Moving away from the internal organization inside Qatar, we focus on how the international soccer clubs travel to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. After discarding road and sea travel, the teams will charter aircraft to fly to Doha.
Airlines such as Wamos Air (EB), Titan Airways (ZT), and La Compagnie (B0) rely on this economic model and can fly old aircraft to operate their connections. These aircraft tend to stay on the ground for longer periods when charter requests decrease.
However, the most common situation when flying a national team from one country to another is having the flag carrier dedicate one or two aircraft to performing this request.
Airlines Supporting Their Teams
The Spanish National Team, for example, chartered an Iberia (IB) Airbus A350-900 to transport its players from Madrid (MAD) to Amman (AMM), where the club will dispute one last friendly match against Jordan before the World Cup. IB will fly them on to Qatar after the match is finished.
This means that this expensive long-range aircraft will need to fly empty on three separate occasions from and to its hub to make these charter flights. Budget airlines such as Ryanair (FR) or EasyJet (U2) would never contemplate this option; they always fly their aircraft at full capacity.
Airlines compensate the cost of chartering their national teams with advertising profits the carriers receive for being the sole carriers of their World Cup contestants.
Some carriers seize the opportunity and move one step closer to the FIFA World Cup. Airlines sometimes decide to introduce special World Cup aircraft liveries. Some of the airlines this year include Aerolíneas Argentinas (AR), Lufthansa (LH), and GOL Linhas Aereas (G3).
Flag carrier Qatar Airways (QR) announced in 2021 a massive operation involving painting its fleet of aircraft in special World Cup liveries. The liveries have already been applied to 96 aircraft across all types of the Middle Eastern airline’s fleet as of this writing.
Transporting the Fans
Of course, the World Cup is nothing without the fans. The mobilization of the national soccer team’s followers will be much greater due to the location of Qatar. Doha is located right in the middle of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and it is not that far away from North and South America.
Almost all the cities in the world can be reached on a direct flight from Qatar and vice versa, making it easier for fans to visit the host country.
To handle the passenger demand for direct flights to Doha, airlines have organized plenty of charter flights between the most populated cities around the world.
Airlines such as Aerolíneas Argentinas (AR), Air Europa (UX), Air France (AF), or Royal Air Maroc (AT) have scheduled charter connections between Argentina, Spain, France, or Morocco, among others, in the number of tens of arrivals every day in DOH, starting on November 17.
However, the biggest fan campaign is being carried out by none other than QR. The flag carrier has announced that it will also perform its own charter flights to other countries for fans. The move by the Qatari carrier will allow the operation of almost 100 services to 20 different countries. The most frequent of them are nine flights to Sao Paulo (GRU), 11 to Riyadh (RUH), and 15 to Madrid (MAD) between November 17 and 23.
To have the physical and operational capability to carry out all the 100 charter flights to the World Cup, QR announced that the airline would cut flights to 18 destinations to free up aircraft and to transfer slots to these additional services.
A Before-and-after Event for Qatari Aviation
Thanks to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the small Middle Eastern country is going to receive an economic boost that will position it above other countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, which also celebrate their own large-scale events during the current months.
Due to the size of the biggest football competition in the world, DOH and DIA will expect their most extraordinary season ever as Qatar becomes the center of the world for 29 days.
Featured image: Qatar Airways