Qatar Airways Reveals 2012 Network Plans

Middle Eastern carrier Qatar Airways has revealed its network expansion plans for the coming year with growth due in the European, African and Australian markets.  Speaking on the last day of what had been an eventful Dubai Air Show for the carrier, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker announced that it was finalising the launch of seven new routes for 2012, adding to the new flights to Baku and Tbilisi that it has already announced for launch from February 1, 2012.

The new flights comprise services from Doha to Perth in Western Australia, the airline’s second destination in Australia; the Finnish capital Helsinki; Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb; Gassim in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and three East African cities – Zanzibar, Kigali and Mombasa, in Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya, respectively.  Qatar Airways has yet to confirm its proposed schedule or launch dates for this routes simply stating they will begin “over the next few months”.

“We are continuing what we started back in 1997 when Qatar Airways was launched with new routes and new aircraft being introduced at an unprecedented rate to further strengthen what is truly a global network airline,” said Akbar Al Baker.  “Our mission has been to operate to key business and leisure destinations around the world, but also to underserved markets where others dare not venture into.  We take bold decisions to serve certain markets because we believe it makes strong business sense.”

The airline is undergoing a relentless growth to position itself as the carrier of choice for business and leisure travellers flying to the Middle East or via its Doha International hub to destinations across the rest of the world.  Although Emirates Airline launched operations many years before Qatar Airways, the latter will overtake its rival during the coming year in terms of network links, although it still falls some way behind in passenger traffic.

The table below shows the current network and weekly activities of each of the Middle East’s major carriers’ hub airport.  As you can see Emirates Airline leads the way with almost 400,000 weekly seats available from Dubai International Airport.  Qatar Airways’ offering is almost half that number, but it also offers over 1,000 weekly flights from Doha International Airport and serves a similar number of destinations.

MIDDLE EASTERN AIRLINE ACTIVITY FROM BASE AIRPORTS (Top Ten; non-stop weekly flights)

Rank

Airline

Hub

Destinations

Weekly Flights

Weekly Seats

1

Emirates Airline

DXB

97

1,221

399,949

2

Qatar Airways

DOH

94

1,013

212,069

3

Saudi Arabian Airlines

JED

65

767

150,955

4

Saudi Arabian Airlines

RUH

55

764

143,146

5

Etihad Airways

AUH

64

550

117,946

6

Gulf Air

BAH

50

537

75,365

7

Oman Air

MCT

42

393

66,778

8

Royal Jordanian Airlines

AMM

56

369

47,022

9

El Al Israel Airlines

TLV

41

240

45,431

10

Iran Air

THR

24

279

37,252


“This announcement shows the confidence Qatar Airways has in such a diverse range of destinations.  We look forward to offering even greater choice to the travelling public that they so deserve,” added Akbar Al Baker at his Dubai Air Show presentation.

The airline regularly makes mention of the fact that it is willing to serve destinations not on the radar of its rivals.  Of this latest list of destinations, only Perth is currently served by the major Middle Eastern airlines with Emirates Airline offering a twice daily service.  However, Qatar Airways will also face regional pressure to the Saudi Arabian city of Gassim through the operations of low-cost carriers Air Arabia (from Sharjah) and flydubai (from Dubai). 

The launch of services to Perth will come two years after Qatar Airways made its debut in the Australian market with flights to Melbourne.  In the past year it carried an estimated 132,000 passengers on this service, with less than 6,000 of these travellers beginning or ending their journeys outside of its Doha base.  The main traffic flows were to/from London Heathrow (13 per cent), Athens (nine per cent) and Paris CDG (seven per cent).  The airline has successfully established Doha International Airport as a transit point, offering good connections between global destinations.

Qatar Airways’ network strategy has been to establish an increasing number of spokes from its Middle Eastern hub and its latest network expansion will support this.  It is not just about how many passengers want to fly from Zagreb to Doha, but how many want to fly to destinations across the Middle East, Africa and further afield into Asia and Australasia.  Likewise, the demand between Kigali, Mombasa and Zanzibar and Doha is limited, but when you start to consider the airline’s wider European and North American networks, the market is huge,

Looking at the statistics, the O&D demand between Zagreb and Doha is around 2,000 passengers due to the current absence of a direct service.  However, the wider demand to Africa is around 18,000 passengers; the Middle East approximately 45,000; Asia around 41,000 and Australasia an estimated 17,000 and these are all areas that Qatar Airways will be targeting.

Alongside Zagreb, Qatar Airways will be adding flights to Helsinki, complementing its existing services to Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.  The airline will be the first of the Middle Eastern carriers to enter the Finnish market and thus serve all four Nordic and Scandinavian capitals.  The country’s national carrier Finnair already has a large share of the Europe-Asia market as its geographical position affords it the quickest route between these two continents, but there is still a large untapped market between Finalnd and the Gulf States and wider Middle Eastern and African markets.

In Africa, Qatar Airways has recently expanded its network with route launches to Entebbe in Uganda and the Libyan port city of Benghazi – its first new routes into the continent since 2007.  It already flies to 16 destinations and the addition of Kigali, rich in mining and capital of Rwanda, together with Kenya’s second largest city and popular tourist centre of Mombasa, and the mystic spice island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, will significantly boost its activities in the continent.

Saudi Arabia is a key market in the region and a number of airlines have boosted capacity into the country over the past year.  The addition of Gassim to Qatar Airways’ network will mean it will serve five destinations in the country, a market where it has raised capacity by more than doubling frequency in recent months to Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Medina.

In the current calendar year Qatar Airways has launched services to 14 additional destinations and will add a 15th to its network later this month when it begins flights to the Chinese city of Chongqing.  These new routes comprise Bucharest (Romania), Budapest (Hungary), Brussels (Belgium), Stuttgart (Germany), Aleppo (Syria), Shiraz (Iran), Venice (Italy), Montreal (Canada), Medina (Saudi Arabia), Kolkata (India), Sofia (Bulgaria), Oslo (Norway), and the previously mentioned Benghazi (Libya) and Entebbe (Uganda).