Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker has called on Ottawa to respond positively to the airline’s plans to expand its service in Canada, terming the current capacity given to the airline on the Canadian route “limited.”
On Wednesday, Qatar Airways launched its three-flights-per-week service between Doha and Montreal, Canada’s second largest city after Toronto.
Addressing a press conference in Montreal, a day after the new service’s launch, al-Baker said it was very difficult to get even these “meagre” three flights a week to Canada.
“I thought that Canadians were very generous,” he quipped.
“By entering Canada, Qatar Airways is giving the travelling public more choice and more options they fully deserve. But with only three flights a week to Montreal, we are constrained by the limited capacity.”
Al-Baker said Qatar Airways wanted to expand its presence in Canada with additional capacity “in response to a growing passenger base (there), travelling to many destinations we serve across the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.”
“This will not only benefit the travelling public, but also serve as a huge job creation opportunity and boost local economies.”
Al-Baker said Air Canada shouldn’t be afraid of competition from Qatar. “We feel that there is so much business in aviation that you don’t have to put anybody out of business,” he said. “Increasing competition is in the best interest of Canada.”
Air Canada has forcefully pushed Ottawa not to grant additional landing spots to airlines based in the Gulf region, according to Canadian press reports.
“Air Canada has been vocal in the past about Gulf carriers allegedly taking away traffic as they fly passengers to the Middle East and then transfer them onto connecting flights to growth markets in India, China and southeast Asia,” said a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail paper.
Al-Baker said Qatar Airways remained interested in the CSeries aircraft from Montreal’s Bombardier Inc but had to put off placing an order.
The Qatar Airways’ corporate jet division, Qatar Executive, already operates Canadian-built Bombardier aircraft.
The airline, al-Baker said, was highly impressed with the 300 CSeries model, the larger of two CSeries models, and an order of between 15 and 25 planes was still under consideration.
He rejected suggestions that Qatar was holding off on the CSeries order as a bargaining chip to win more landing rights at Canadian airports.“We don’t use commercial issues” to win concessions from governments, he said. Al-Baker hoped that the launch of non-stop scheduled flights between Doha and Montreal would be “the start of more things to come in Canada.”
He pointed to the rapid pace at which Qatar Airways had been growing, substantiated by the upcoming new routes, increased frequency and additional aircraft orders announced at the Paris Air Show last month.
“Qatar Airways has strategically positioned itself as a global connector, flying passengers seamlessly across continents, from East to West in comfort and style, with service onboard that I am sure will impress the Canadian market,” he said. “We are among shining stars from the Middle East and will continue to explore new growth opportunities to cater for growing air travel demand.”
He said the recent endorsement by the industry audit Skytrax, naming Qatar Airways as Airline of the Year 2011 had “confirmed the travelling public’s faith in our outstanding inflight product and operational excellence.”
He said Qatar Airways had beaten stiff competition from four Asian carriers in the category to win the top honour.
The Doha-Montreal route is operated by the airline’s long-haul flagship aircraft, the Boeing 777, featuring 42 seats in Business Class and 217 in Economy.
Qatar Airways is the only Gulf carrier to serve Montreal, the airline’s fourth destination in North America. It currently operates daily flights to New York, Washington and Houston direct from Doha.
The non-stop journey from Doha to Montreal’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport takes 13 hours and 20 minutes.
An airline official said the Doha-Montreal route would facilitate trade and leisure, providing seamless connectivity for travellers from East to West. “With Qatar Airways’ extensive network of destination across the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Far East, the new service will offer excellent connections over Doha to and from Montreal,” the official said. The number of Canadians living in Qatar is estimated at 5,000. Qatar is also home to two Canadian-university satellite campuses, the College of the North Atlantic and the University of Calgary.
Over the next few months, Qatar Airways launches flights to the following destinations, strengthening its global reach further: Madina (Saudi Arabia) on July 14; Kolkata (India) on July 27; Sofia (Bulgaria) on September 14; Oslo (Norway) on October 5; Entebbe (Uganda) on November 2; Baku (Azerbaijan) and Tbilisi (Georgia) on November 30.
Qatar Airways now flies to over 100 destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and South America and operates a modern fleet of 98 aircraft. During the Paris Air Show last month, Qatar Airways placed orders with Boeing for six additional 777s.
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