Qatar Airways pushes for open skies in India

Carrier also launches flights to Sharjah and the new Al Maktoum airport at Dubai World Central and now serves four destinations in the UAE.

Qatar Airways is adding routes to Sharjah and Dubai’s Al Maktoum airport to double its number of destinations in the UAE. Karim Sahib / AFP
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Qatar Airways’ chief executive is urging India’s next government to open up the aviation market in order to boost the country’s economy.

“India is a huge country. It is an economic giant. It has potential that very few countries have. Unfortunately, the government regime does not allow free access to the Indian market,” said Akbar Al Baker, the Qatar Airways chief, at a press conference yesterday to mark the launch of the airline’s service to Sharjah.

“I hope that the new government in India will revisit the aviation regime in India and look at the interests of the Indian people and not the interests of politicians,” he added.

A general election is due to be held in India in April and May. The pro-business BJP party is being tipped to win, supplanting the Congress party from power.

Qatar Airways already flies to 13 destinations in India, but said it wants to grow in the country.

Separately, Mr Al Baker said that Qatar was in the process of applying to US authorities for customs clearance in Doha, as already exists in Abu Dhabi.

“This will enhance our international product as we are growing in the United States,” he said.

Qatar Airways plans to add flights to Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas this year.

“We have an open-sky policy in the United States. There are airlines in the United States that are showing concern about the entry of Gulf carriers ... but then the United States is a country that believes in free trade,” Mr Al Baker said.

Free trade has to be on “equal footing”, he asserted.

“I hope that reasoning will prevail and the bigger interest of the country will be put ahead of interest of certain companies,” he said.

As in the US, some airlines in western Europe have voiced concerns over the rapid growth of the Arabian Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

“I think it is not correct for western European airlines to dictate government policies,” Mr Al Baker said.

“If a restriction happens for the sake of argument – it will not happen – Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, and Air Arabia, we all get together and cancel airplane orders. Do you know what will happen to the European economies?”

At the Dubai Airshow in November, the Gulf’s big three airlines ordered 142 planes worth a total of US$41.8 billion from Europe’s Airbus consortium.

Mr Al Baker’s remarks yesterday came at an event to announce the launching of flights to Sharjah and the new Al Maktoum airport at Dubai World Central.

Qatar Airways already flies to Abu Dhabi and Dubai International Airport. The new flights will take the airline’s number of destinations in the UAE to four. Qatar Airways will fly three times a day to Sharjah and two times a day to DWC. Both of the new routes received their maiden Qatar Airways flights yesterday morning.

The new routes are being operated with an Airbus A320, which Qatar Airways uses on its short-haul routes throughout the Gulf region.

The flights will have 132 seats in economy and 12 in first class.

For the flight to Sharjah, a promotional fare of 510 riyals (Dh514) is on offer for economy class.

Qatar Airways’ expansion plans for 2014 includes flying to Larnaca in Cyprus, Edinburgh in the UK, and Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side of Istanbul.

The airline plans to add 15 destinations in its new financial year starting in April, according to Mr Al Baker.

Qatar Airways has a fleet of 129 aircraft flying to 136 destinations.

Last week, Mr Al Baker said that Qatar Airways would move to the new Hamad International airport in Doha by the second quarter of this year.

“The current Doha International Airport is designed for 9.5 million passengers per annum and we had 25 million passengers last year, so you can see that the airport facilities are not world class as the airline,” said Al Baker.

He described the new airport as “a game changer” in the region.

Qatar is ramping up its infrastructure as it prepares to host the Fifa World Cup in 2022.