Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker has confirmed its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft will debut on the Heathrow-Doha route from December.
Al Baker, speaking at this week’s Aviation Club lunch in London, said that Qatar had “taken the keys to the aircraft”, which is currently in California for final connectivity fittings before being officially delivered to the carrier in November.
The outspoken CEO also said Qatar Airways was “working Boeing hard”, and delivery of the first five of the carrier’s 60-strong fleet of Dreamliners was now expected before the end of the year.
Al Baker also took the opportunity to call on the UK government to press ahead with expansion at Heathrow, warning: “A third runway at Heathrow is not an option. It is a necessity”.
“Heathrow is bursting at the seams and in my opinion, has reached a critical point,” he said. “Measures to expand need to be taken soon to avoid a catastrophic situation in the future. The government cannot afford to immerse itself in long-winded debate and public enquiries. Get on with the business and resolve this.”
Qatar currently serves Heathrow five times-daily, and Al Baker said there is “demand for further expansion on the route”, but warned that this would require a relaxation in current bilateral constraints, and improved slot availability.
He also confirmed that the carrier is looking at opportunities for new routes across the UK, where Qatar is not constrained by bilateral agreements, but stressed that “Heathrow is a magnet that cannot be ignored”.
Al Baker also took aim at European governments, which have "falsely accused Gulf carriers of using government money to subsidise our remarkable growth”.
“This shows a lack of understanding of our business model,” said Al Baker. “This shows arrogance and ignorance of how we operate. Those who criticise with baseless arguments are afraid of the competitive threat we pose.”
“Critics have argued Gulf petro dollars being pumped into an aviation landscape have fuelled our expansion. What a load of rubbish. Do you realise we in Doha pay market rates for fuel, which is higher than in many parts of the world?”
On the subject of Qatar’s forthcoming entry into Oneworld, Al Baker said that the carrier “looks forward to working with our new partners across the world”, and when asked why Qatar had chosen the Oneworld alliance, he said that Oneworld chose Qatar, joking that “we never go to parties uninvited”.