What’s in and what’s out at Qatar Airways as it redefines its way forward
History makes its mark…
Qatar Airways is an absolutely essential part of the countries survival.
Surrounded by hostile nations who disagree fundamentally with its foreign policy and accommodation of the Iranian view point, all of its neighbours established a land and air blockade in June 2017. Personal insults amongst ruling families have flown back and forth and things haven’t improved a jot since.
Qatar is barred from flying over Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, The Maldives, Djibouti, The Comoros, Niger, Gabon, Somaliland and Yemen (not that the last two have even the slightest capability of stopping over flights if they wanted to). Jordan, Chad and Senegal have dropped out.
Qatar is allowed to fly over Iran, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey, which is crucial for reaching Europe. Turkey supports Qatar militarily, there’s a huge US Central Command air base in the country and the US Fifth Fleet is technically based in Bahrein.
The problem for Qatar is getting goods and services int the country and thats why the airline is essential – and in effect didn’t really stop flying completely even in the worst phase of the initial Covid crisis.
The country is deeply dependent on air cargo, both in terms of permanent freighters and passenger airliner belly cargo.
Getting airborne post-covid
The airline has decided to utilise first and foremost its newest aircraft. Its aim is to quickly re-establish its routes and connectivity. It’s also decided to focus on the most economical aircraft and claims it’s putting environmental concerns first by doing so.
Frankly thats simply nonsense. They’re utilising the A350-900 and A350-1000’s along with the 787-8 and 787-9’s because they’re the ones with the greatest agility, that meet current demand and are cheapest to run. A benefit of that is they pollute less which benefits the environment as a by product, its then easy to claim you did it on purpose. If Qatar was bothered about environmental issues it would stop being one of the worlds biggest exporters of liquid petroleum gas. It’s just greenwashing.
What isn’t working for the airline right now is the A380. There isn’t the demand to fill it, they have only ten of them, which is not a big enough fleet to be economic, unless virtually every flight is full of profitable customers, which they were until Covid. Until recently, they were fully operational and while the airline claims they aren’t environmentally sound and that’s supposedly a big reason not to fly them, they also didn’t say they absolutely won’t be bringing them back.
So what is it? They’re environmentally unsound and therefore should never be re-used, or it’s just greenwashing and they’re bring them back when they are environmentally sound? How exactly will they suddenly become OK to fly again? Do airlines think we’re all idiots?
Either way, Qatar has said it no longer plans on flying the A380 past 2024, so the chances are they’ll never come back unless passenger numbers soar back to 2018-19 levels.
What about the 773ER fleet?
The return of the 777 is going to be entirely down to the speed of the recovery in passenger numbers. There’s no way of telling how fast that will be, so reintroduction will be on an as-needed basis. Once a route gets to the point passenger numbers justify permanent introduction of a 7773ER, they will come back.
Right now the airline isn’t taking on new aircraft. A350’s and 787’s are piling up slowly at Boeing (some 50 for various airlines), and Airbus are sitting on a smaller number of A350’s.
Qatar was one of the first airlines to make it crystal clear, in the only way they ever do, bluntly, that they weren’t going to take new aircraft. It wasn’t really a discussion.
What Boeing is mildly worried about is the 777-9. Already it’s been made clear they won’t deliver any aircraft until 2022, probably the first quarter. Provided airlines will take them, but that will be clearer by mid 2021 when airlines will be expected to cough up deposits and pre-payments for options. If they shy away from that commitment – be it Qatar or anyone else, Boeing will have a problem.
Qatar’s future is pretty solid, the Government needs it more than ever and it in turn needs to grab as much of the key Middle East transfer business before Emirates gets up and running again.
The question for Qatar, for every airline is will the aircraft fly with enough passengers to make them viable? For Qatar it doesn’t matter quite so much. If the cargo aspect is taken into account, and the countries survival depends on it, then if they have to subsidise the cost longer term, you can be sure they will, not that they’ll ever admit it.
What may well happen is that the airline will soften further its attitudes towards its alliance members in Oneworld, much as it has done with American Airlines. More cooperation and more willingness to work hand in hand without such obdurate resistance as has been shown in the past (ie. do it our way or no way), will benefit the whole interlinked industry.