Suites com­ing to busi­ness class

The New Zealand Herald - - BUSINESS TRAVELLER -

A year since Qatar Air­ways started fly­ing the long­est haul in the world be­tween Auck­land and Doha, air­line chief Ak­bar Al Baker says the route is do­ing well and will be boosted next year with lux­ury Qsuites in busi­ness class. The new Boe­ing 777X-8 is also likely to be used on the route, but not un­til next decade. Al Baker told the Her­ald he was “pleas­antly sur­prised” by the Auck­land route. “We wouldn’t be fly­ing just for the sake of fly­ing, we need to make money.” The Qsuite, which is sim­i­lar to some lux­ury suites in other air­line’s first class cab­ins, was be­ing retro­fit­ted into all the air­line’s Boe­ing 777s. ”Un­for­tu­nately it will take an­other year be­fore you’re able to try the Qsuite on the New Zealand flight,” he said. Qatar uses a Boe­ing 777-200LR on the 14,525km jour­ney, which can take more than 17 hours. The 777X-8 will not be avail­able un­til early next decade, but can seat up to 375 pas­sen­gers with a range ca­pa­bil­ity of 16,110km. More ul­tra-long range fly­ing from Doha is planned, which Al Baker said fit­ted the air­line’s strat­egy of fly­ing point to point di­rectly, avoid­ing busy or con­gested hubs and pre­fer­ring to fly pas­sen­gers through its own near-new Ha­mad Air­port. How­ever, he said that while he was happy with the per­for­mance of the New Zealand op­er­a­tion, there were no plans to ex­pand it. Qatar’s en­try to the New Zealand mar­ket had helped fuel an air­line price war at both ends

Hof the plane. He did warn that cur­rent el­e­vated oil prices would be felt by pas­sen­gers. “Any in­crease in oil price af­fects an air­line and we are no dif­fer­ent from that — the thing we’ll have to do is pass that in­crease to the cus­tomer. Fares will rise, of course they will,” said Al Baker. The Qsuite would be wel­comed by pre­mium trav­ellers, said Sean Beren­son, Flight Cen­tre NZ gen­eral man­ager prod­uct. “We ex­pect the Qsuite to res­onate very well with our cus­tomers as pre­mium travel in­creases in de­mand year on year. Over the last year we have seen a 16 per cent in­crease in busi­ness class and 11 per cent in­crease in pre­mium econ­omy travel. The new prod­uct would not only ap­peal to our busi­ness cus­tomers but also our ‘bleisure’ cus­tomers, par­tic­u­larly for long haul flights as they are guar­an­teed com­fort for a more af­ford­able price.”

Grant Bradley trav­elled to Can­berra cour­tesy of Qatar Air­ways air­line is head­ing for a loss this year.

But it is still ex­pand­ing its fleet of 200 air­craft, tak­ing de­liv­ery of a new air­craft ev­ery 10 days, on av­er­age, as part of a huge or­der book over the next eight years worth US$92 bil­lion at list prices. The air­line al­ready flies to 150 places and 11 new des­ti­na­tions have been launched since the block­ade was im­posed.

“We have de­liv­ered,” said Al Baker. “Our coun­try has per­se­vered, our coun­try has be­come stronger post block­ade — that was not ex­pected by our ad­ver­saries.”

Al Baker, who de­scribes him­self as out­spo­ken, re­counted the ori­gins of the air­line, which now con­sis­tently tops SKYTRAX cus­tomer polls.

When it was launched in 1990 it was a “small, back­yard air­line” with five di­lap­i­dated planes and the av­er­age fleet age was over 22 years. (That has now fallen to five years old.)

“I be­came the CEO in 1997 and re­launched Qatar Air­ways — peers in our re­gion dis­counted me. They said this was all about talk, there was no sub­stance and an air­line from a small coun­try can­not sur­vive against big play­ers in the re­gion.”

Those i ncluded Gulf Air, Emi­rates, Saudi Ara­bian Air­lines and Mid­dle East Air­lines.

“At that time I was only talk­ing very humbly, say­ing peo­ple didn’t have to be wor­ried about Qatar Air­ways — it will only have 35 air­planes and only have 35 des­ti­na­tions.

“Of course that was a smoke­screen for what was my plan for my coun­try be­cause I had a very clear man­date from my ruler.”

Grant Bradley trav­elled to Can­berra cour­tesy of Qatar Air­ways

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