Qatar Airways Selects Philadelphia as Next North American Gateway

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Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen,
Editor, Routesonline

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Qatar Airways Selects Philadelphia as Next North American Gateway

Fast expanding Gulf carrier Qatar Airways has confirmed that Philadelphia will become its fifth US gateway when it inaugurates daily flights from the new Hamad International Airport in Doha from April 2, 2014.  Further growth in North America has been under discussion for the past couple of years but previously Atlanta, Boston and Detroit had been mooted as possible destinations.  However, with Qatar Airways’ impending entry to the oneworld alliance later this year this decision highlights how the carrier’s strategy is being developed to work with its global partners.

With the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, the latter’s Philadelphia International Airport hub has become a key location in American’s North East US strategy and alongside Qatar Airways’ existing flights to Chicago O’Hare the new service will help feed traffic into the American domestic system.  There is a relatively strong O&D demand between Philadelphia and the Middle East (approximately 53,000 bi-directional O&D passengers, but 58 per cent of these passengers travelled on US Airways’ link to Tel Aviv), but there is also a strong demand for air services to parts of Asia and Australasia, most notably the Indian subcontinent.

In 2012, an estimated 72,000 bi-directional O&D passengers travelled between Philadelphia and markets across Asia and Australasia.  The Philadelphia metro area is home to large Asian communities, primarily from the Indian subcontinent so it is no surprise that the Indian market dominates existing traffic flows from/to Philadelphia, accounting for 35.7 per cent of the O&D demand to/from Asia and Australasia in 2012.  Other notable markets included Japan (13.6 per cent), China (13.3 per cent), South Korea (8.7 per cent) and Australia (7.3 per cent).  According to the analysis, the largest individual city markets were New Delhi, Tokyo Narita, Mumbai, Seoul Incheon and Bangalore, which together accounted for more than 50 per cent of the annual traffic demand.

Qatar Airways will be the first foreign flag carrier to launch flights at Philadelphia International Airport in more than a decade and will be the sixth destination served by the carrier in North America after Chicago, Houston, New York and Washington in the US and Montreal in Canada.  “Philadelphia is one of the major hubs of the soon-to-be-merged American Airlines / US Airways and will provide Qatar Airways’ customers with onward connections to over 100 cities,” said Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways. 

“We stepped up capacity to the United States, introducing Chicago as our fourth US gateway last month and will now add Philadelphia next year.  With the implementation of code share agreements with American Airlines and JetBlue which offer numerous connections beyond our US gateways, Qatar Airways is making big strides to strengthen its presence in the United States to ultimately give our passengers greater travel options,” he added.

"Philadelphia is one of the major hubs of the soon-to-be-merged American Airlines / US Airways and will provide Qatar Airways’ customers with onward connections to over 100 cities."

Akbar Al Baker,
Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways

Details of Qatar Airways’ expansion in the US were revealed at the Arabian Travel Market where Al Baker also confirmed further network growth with new links to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa and to Clark International Airport in the Philippines.  The carrier also revealed a huge increase in capacity in Pakistan as part of its continued aggressive growth strategy.

The flights to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa will commence on September 18, 2013 and will be the 20thdestination served by Qatar Airways across the African continent.  Flights to Clark International Airport will commence on October 28, 2013 and will further strengthen the carrier’s operations in a country where international air travel continues to grow.  A twice daily link between Doha and Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport is already operated by Qatar Airways but capacity constraints mean it is difficult to expand at the facility and Clark International Airport, previously served by low-cost carriers, is now being seen by the network airlines as a viable alternative.

Clark International Airport, formerly known as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, is located in the province of Pampanga in Central Luzon, which is 80 kilometres to the north of Manila.  The modern facility serves the general vicinity of Greater Manila Area, along with the northern regions of Luzon and has a catchment of around 17 million people. 

The added capacity will support the strong demand from the Filipino diaspora of around ten million globally - about ten per cent of the country’s home population.  The largest numbers of overseas Filipinos reside mainly in the United States, but the region with the largest temporary overseas Filipino population is the Middle East with approximately 2.9 million Filipinos.  This strong demand has already seen Qatar Airways’ Gulf rival, Emirates Airline announce its own plans to serve Clark from Dubai International from October 1, 2013.

“We have been looking to fly to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for some time, and extremely delighted we will be able to do so later year as new aircraft join the fleet.  And Clark International Airport in the Philippines provides us with great opportunities to boost our presence in the Greater Manila area and northern region of Luzon Island.  This comes as good news for the well travelled Filipino community with ever increasing demand for flights to and from the country,” said Al Baker.

It is not all about new markets for Qatar Airways and the carrier is to significantly boost capacity into Pakistan following the signing of a new operational agreement.  Beginning from June 1, 2013 Qatar Airways will step up frequency to Pakistan by 60 per cent to 28 flights each week.  Karachi will be served double daily, up from daily, Lahore services will increase from four to seven flights a week; while Peshawar will gain a third weekly rotation.

“Our customers can expect more choice from next month when we increase frequency to three key cities in Pakistan,” said Al Baker.  “We have had a well established operation in Pakistan for many years, but have always been looking to increase frequency and now thanks to new agreements in place between the relevant authorities, we can soon enjoy more capacity between Qatar and Pakistan.”

Speaking at the Arabian Travel Market, Al Baker also revealed more details about the airline’s plans to expand in the Saudi Arabian domestic market.  Alongside Gulf Air, Qatar Airways was awarded a licence by the Saudi Arabian General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) to bring more competition to the Kingdom’s local market, which is currently dominated by national carrier Saudia, but also served by low-cost venture nasair.  According to Al Baker the Saudi Arabian operation will be established under a completely separate brand and will commence operations from hubs at Jeddah and Riyadh with a fleet of ten narrowbody jets.

"Yet again Qatar Airways is bucking the trend across the industry demonstrating that we are resilient in times of global economic austerity because while others are cutting back, we see the opportunities to expand our global footprint.  Joining the oneworld global alliance later this year will also present tremendous travel options and benefits to our passengers and to those of partner carriers in the alliance."

Akbar Al Baker,
Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways

Elsewhere, Al Baker confirmed that Qatar Airways is courting Indian carrier IndiGo to establish a business partnership.  This is unlikely to initially involve any equity acquisition and is expected to simply take the form of a codeshare arrangement.  “We are initiating discussions with IndiGo, the most well run airline in India, and will let the process proceed to its best conclusion,” said Al Baker.  “We respect the need to look at our bottom line as well as that of our industry partners.”

Qatar Airways has already launched four destinations this year – Gassim (Saudi Arabia), Najaf (Iraq), Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Chicago (USA) and aside from this week’s newly-announced routes over the coming weeks and months, the network will grow further with flights to Salalah (Oman on May 22), Basra and Sulaymaniyah (Iraq on June 3 and August 20 respectively) and Chengdu (China on September 3) being introduced.

“Yet again Qatar Airways is bucking the trend across the industry demonstrating that we are resilient in times of global economic austerity because while others are cutting back, we see the opportunities to expand our global footprint,” explained Al Baker.  “Joining the oneworld global alliance later this year will also present tremendous travel options and benefits to our passengers and to those of partner carriers in the alliance.”

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