Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker revealed on Monday that the Doha-based airline has ambitious hopes to expand the number of destinations its serves to 190 from the 177 it currently has on its route map.
Al Baker is eyeing a rapid and aggressive expansion timeline but increasing the number of destinations the airline services at present will now largely depend on how quickly Qatar Airlines can get its hands on new aircraft.
Unfortunately for Al Baker, ongoing supply chain challenges and manufacturing delays have created a worldwide shortage of new aircraft, although the often outspoken chief executive is hopeful that orders will start to be fulfilled soon.
Having managed to settle a particularly nasty legal spat with European airframer Airbus, an order for 73 short-haul aircraft was recently reinstated, and the first deliveries are expected in the “not too distant future”, according to Al Baker.
In the meantime, the airline has managed to acquire some Boeing 737MAX aircraft that were originally destined for Russian carrier S7 before Western sanctions quashed the deal.
Qatar Airways is also busily reinstating a sub-fleet of Airbus A350 aircraft that were grounded due to a paint defect, although there’s still no timeline for when the 777X will be delivered (Qatar Airways was meant to be the worldwide launch airline) and 787 Dreamliner deliveries were delayed for a long while.
That potentially leaves Qatar Airways with a shortfall of aircraft… there is, though, a possible solution which sees partner airlines operating flights through a joint venture.
Ben Schlappig at One Mile at a Time recently pondered whether American Airlines’ flight between New York JFK and Doha, which only launched in June 2022, would survive much longer because the airline is seemingly struggling to fill premium seats.
Sources, however, claim American Airlines is easily overselling Economy Class, with many passengers booked onto connecting Qatar Airways flights to South Asia and Africa.
On the face of it, the route might not be the most economical or lucrative for American Airlines, but it does benefit Qatar Airways because it allows it to increase capacity on a key route without wasting another airframe that could be used to expand its network.
Conventional wisdom is that no one would want to fly with another airline when Qatar Airways offers a superior experience on the same route, but that hasn’t stopped Al Baker from hammering out deals with British Airways, Finnair and Royal Air Maroc.
The goal remains the same – increase capacity on routes that are already served by Qatar Airways without wasting airframes when a partner airline can do the flying.
The strategy appears to be working. Flights on partner airlines are just as busy as on Qatar Airways operated metal, and the ultimate plan is to turn Doha into a major hub for the Oneworld alliance.
What might be key is the shift from traditional business travel, which used to be the main cash cow for airlines like AA, to the post-pandemic era of blended ‘bleisure’ (a horrible made-up word to describe a business trip with a leisure element tagged on) and premium leisure travel.
In the long run, AA’s presence in Doha might not make sense, but for now, at least, it suits Qatar Airways, and the business deal likely makes it work for American as well.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.