LONDON: Qatar Airways Ltd. may order 100 new jets before the end of this year to start Indian Airline and also plans to announce two new routes to the UK even as the country prepares to exit the European Union, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said.
The Gulf carrier is confident that a new aviation policy mapped out by “futuristic” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will permit 100 per cent foreign ownership of a domestic airline, Al Baker said Monday in London.
Qatar Airways is briefing lawyers in India and will seek formally to establish the new airline soon, with a tender for aircraft to follow. “It could be this year,” the CEO told journalists after addressing the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum. “It depends how fast we can arrange our application.”
Al Baker revealed last month that he planned to set up an Indian carrier with a fleet of 100 narrow-body jets, breaking into a fast-growing market where local rules previously prevented full ownership by foreign airlines. He said at the time that the Qatar Investment Authority could fund the venture, leaving Qatar Air to run it, though it’s not clear whether such an arrangement would avoid the curb.
Qatar Air is targeting an Indian foothold after Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi took a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways India. Leading Asian carriers Singapore Airlines and AirAsia also have 49 per cent holdings in affiliates in the subcontinent, though no foreign operator has been able to acquire full control.
Qatar Air’s expansion plans elsewhere include the addition of two new routes to Britain, the CEO said at the investment event. The carrier already offers 72 weekly services to the UK, where it serves London’s Heathrow hub as well as Manchester and Birmingham in England and Edinburgh in Scotland.
Al Baker said his company accepts that a ban on passengers carrying large electronic devices aboard US-bound flights from a clutch of Mideast and African nations including Qatar is a “security decision,” adding that it’s too early to say if the measures will hurt business.
“I don’t think it is targeted at Gulf airlines,” he said. “It is a decision made by the United States that we as an operator have to follow. We have to comply and make sure that we don’t cause any inconvenience to our passengers.”