Al Baker to revamp Qatar’s economy class

by Andreas Spaeth
February 22, 2018
Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker Photo: Andreas Spaeth.

Nothing can tie down Akbar Al Baker, the ebullient CEO of Qatar Airways.

Not an economically painful embargo by Qatar’s neighboring states in place since June 2017, nor a two-month delivery delay of his first Airbus aircraft due to difficulties in installing the Qsuites.

“This blockade has resulted in zero achievements, we will continue to march ahead, while we expect the embargo to last for the time being,” he told international media assembled in Toulouse this week for the delivery of the Gulf carrier’s first A350-1000 and the world premiere for the longer A350.

Qatar will receive six A350-1000s in 2018, putting the first one to work on the route from Doha to London-Heathrow this Saturday. This will be followed by the US East coast and some Asian destinations.

Qatar A350-1000 economy
Qatar’s first A350-1000. Photo: Andreas Spaeth.

Overall,  Qatar currently has 38 Airbus A350-900s on order plus 42 of the longer -1000 version, seating 44 more passengers in Qatar’s configuration, thanks to its fuselage stretch of seven meters.

Qatar Airways probably rightly sells its new “Business in First” QSuite product as the world’s best Business offering.

“This is the ultimate in luxury we can do, I don’t know what more we could possibly do, so in the future we will enhance the experience further, but within the framework of the current QSuite,” Al Baker said in an exclusive interview with AirlineRatings in which he hinted at the next steps in product development.

Read our Review of the Qsuite.

“For the incoming Boeing 777Xs we will lower the current wall height of the suites by a few inches after receiving passenger input.”

Currently , ust 15 aircraft of the Qatar long-haul fleet fly the new premium product, while the retrofitting of 40 older Boeing 777-300ERs has already started.

A notable exception will be the 30-strong fleet of Boeing 787s, whose fuselage is too narrow for the suite but the product there will be upgraded from more privacy.

While the QSuite, manufactured by Rockwell Collins, took three years to develop, the next new product to be created in-house by Qatar will take less time.

“Next we will develop new economy class seats, as most other airlines have neglected the core of their customers for a long time,”  Al Baker said.

Once the design elements, about which Al Baker declines to say anything yet, will be defined, the airline will ask manufacturers such as current economy seat supplier Recaro, for bids to manufacture it.

“I hope to be able to unveil it at next year’s ITB travel show in Berlin in March 2019,” said Al Baker.

While considering upping the ante in coach overall, he at the same time rejects the idea of Premium Economy class unlike Emirates, which has been mulling it for some time but has yet to announce a date it will be introduced.

Always striving to elevate the product of his airline to the next level, it is natural Al Baker is looking at current projects to bring a new supersonic passenger airliner to market.

“Let’s see what these young people can do,” he said,  referring to Denver-based start-up Boom Supersonic, trying to get a 50 to 55-seat supersonic passenger jet into the air by 2024.

“We would be interested in taking six to eight aircraft, though the cabin product resembles a premium economy class, as the charm of it would be that our passengers could do intercontinental day trips from Doha, especially if it would be possible to fly supersonic over land.

“We would be ready to be one of the launch customers and would happily put down a refundable deposit, as the critical question of who will supply the engines for the aircraft has not been addressed as of yet.”

The actual launch customer of Boom is Virgin Atlantic Airways, while JAL has put in non-refundable deposits and even firm orders.

On the other hand, Akbar Al Baker has declared that the number of A380s Qatar operates won’t be increased.

“We are satisfied with the ten aircraft we will have by April but will not firm up the three options we hold, we will finish this program with the tenth aircraft.”

The A380 is and will remain the only aircraft on which Qatar offers a First Class cabin.

At the other end of the spectrum, Al Baker was asked if he would take another look at the CSeries again, after having had expressed interest earlier.

“You know, manufacturers have to adapt to a delivery schedule I require as an airline, not the other way around,’’ he said.

“Bombardier couldn’t deliver that before. We have no interest in the CSeries for the time being, but once Bombardier is marketed by Airbus, we might have another look.”