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Qatar Airways extends reach as open skies deal arrives

February 7, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Qatar Airways will convert part of a huge aircraft order to longer-range planes as it capitalises on an historic, landmark deal between the State of Qatar and the European Union – an “open skies” comprehensive air services arrangement between Qatar and Europe.

The deal with Europe will give the 28 European Union member states and Qatar unlimited and unrestricted access to their respective territories.

Qatar Airways has confirmed it will convert 10 of its 50 Airbus A321neo on order to the Airbus A321LR (long range) variant. The A321LR is a type of A321neo which has extra fuel tanks as well as a higher maximum take-off weight to give the aircraft additional range, enabling Qatar Airways to build frequencies on existing routes and to connect to new developing markets

Qatar Airways group chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said the airline had reassessed its fleet requirements and determined that the A321LR was needed “to successfully support our global route expansion. Based on this analysis we have agreed with Airbus that we will convert 10 of our 50 A321neo on order to the longer range A321LR, the first of which will be delivered in 2020.”

The A321LR, the latest member of the A320neo family, is able to fly up to 4000 nautical miles (7400 km). Most European points lie well within that limit.

Airbus says the plane’s per-seat operational costs are 30% lower than those of the nearest competitor “and all this with excellent environmental performance”.

Qatar Airways – which has won a swag of accolades, including ‘World’s Best Business Class’ in the 2018 World Airline Awards – has a lot to contend with  on the political front. In 2017, the UAE – home of Emirates and Etihad – joined Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in accusing Qatar of supporting causes that back terrorism, a charge Qatar vehemently denies. Some of those countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed off their airspace for all Qatari-registered aircraft.

Al Baker has frequently voiced his outrage at the continuing blockade, which is forcing Qatar Airways to fly longer routes and burn more fuel.

The State of Qatar’s new air deal with Europe will be the first of its kind ever between the EU and a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member state.

The landmark Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement provides a significant competitive edge to air carriers of both sides and a sustainable framework for future operations. As a result, all air carriers from the 28 European Union member states and Qatar now have unlimited and unrestricted access to their respective territories.

Al Baker said: “Through these negotiations, both sides have demonstrated that positive engagement can build trust among nations, so they can embrace the benefits of competition. Our hope is that the success of these negotiations will encourage other trading blocs and significant aviation markets to join in achieving a liberalised global aviation regime for future generations.

“The agreement will offer a common platform for airlines in Europe and Qatar to understand each other better, creating new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.”

“We approach the principle of fair competition very simply: fair access to markets, competing for market share based on products and services of what the customer wants and is willing to purchase.”

European Commission director general mobility and transport, Henrik Hololei, said: “We are very pleased to have concluded our negotiations with the State of Qatar here in Doha today. Thanks to the strong commitment of all parties, we have managed to reconcile our differences and found common ground through honest engagement and open dialogue.”

The airline said pointedly that “the State of Qatar has demonstrated once again that despite the ongoing intra-regional geopolitical tensions due to the illegal blockade imposed on the nation, it remains a leader on the global stage”.

Qatar Airways operates a fleet of more than 230 aircraft via its Doha hub, Hamad International Airport (HIA) to more than 160 destinations worldwide.

Written by Peter Needham

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