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Qatar Airways Claims to be World’s Largest Airline Three Years On From “Illegal” Blockade

Qatar Airways Claims to be World’s Largest Airline Three Years On From “Illegal” Blockade

Three years on from the start of a Saudi-led blockade on Qatar, the small but very rich Persian Gulf country might be having the last laugh. Yesterday, on the eve of the anniversary of what it describes as an “illegal” blockade, Qatar Airways announced it had become the worlds largest passenger and cargo airline amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many of its regional competitors grounded their fleets and stopped flying altogether, Qatar Airways continued operating throughout the pandemic. Even during peak Coronavirus lockdown the number of destinations it served never dropped below 30. In the last few days, the Doha-based airline expanded its network to over 40 destinations and by the end of June, it is targeting service resumption to 80 destinations.

Photo Credit: Qatar Airways

“It has been a testing few years but Qatar Airways will always continue to represent our country with integrity, flying our nation’s flag proudly around the world. Our robust business planning, swift actions in the face of the crisis, customer-focused solutions and dedicated staff have enabled us to continue succeeding in the face of two unprecedented aviation events,” commented Qatar Airways chief executive, Akbar Al Baker.

“Despite the many attempts by the blockading countries to blemish our excellent reputation, I am proud to say that my country and the airline have managed to persevere and grow over the last three years,” the often outspoken and frequently controversial aviation executive continued.

On June 5, 2017, a Saudi-led bloc of countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a physical blockade on their neighbour claiming Qatar was supporting radical Islamist groups and terrorism. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have so far failed to break the ongoing deadlock

“Our airline like our country remains open to engagement,” Baker continued, citing a free ticket giveaway for healthcare workers that included allocations for the blockading countries. Baker says healthcare workers from the likes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE had claimed their full allocation of free tickets but it remains unclear how they can take advantage of the offer considering movement restrictions between Qatar and the blockading countries remain in force.

Throughout the pandemic, Qatar Airways has operated more than 15,000 flights, repatriated 1.8 million people and shifted 200,000 tonnes of essential supplies to impacted regions. Baker says lessons learned by the airline from the blockade had helped it continue operating during the pandemic.

But while Qatar Airways can claim to be the worlds largest airline for now, that accolade might be short-lived. As lockdowns and border restrictions are slowly eased, more and more international airlines are making plans to expand their own schedules. Yesterday, Emirates said it would expand its network to 29 destinations – more will likely be added within the next few weeks.

Baker has also admitted that Qatar Airways will have to be a smaller airline going forward. A significant portion of its own aircraft fleet will remain grounded for some time because of the drop in travel demand. The airline continues to negotiate with Boeing and Airbus to delay the delivery of new aircraft.

The airline has also said hundreds of staff will have to be made redundant over the coming weeks. In a leaked internal memo, Baker told staffers that the airline had tried to avoid job losses but the situation had become so bad that mass redundancies were no longer unavoidable.

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