Qatar Airways chief dismisses predictions airfares will soar

January 14, 2021
Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker. Photo: Steve Creedy.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has dismissed predictions airfares will soar in a post-COVID world where passengers compete for fewer seats on a reduced global airline network.

While Al Baker agrees there will be fewer airlines operating after the pandemic,  he disagreed that airlines would start charging people “an arm and a leg” because there was reduced capacity.

“I don’t think that will be the case,’’ he told a CAPA Centre for Aviation online conference.

“Eventually, the airlines will start growing again but in the short and medium-term, yes, there will be a reduction in the number of aeroplanes and the network.

“But also keep in mind that (fewer) people will want to travel in that period of time.”

READ: More airlines could fail as forward bookings stall.

Qatar has moved further into the global spotlight by continuing to operate during the pandemic and becoming a major passenger and cargo operator.

Al Baker has tipped a recovery to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 but cautioned this was only realistic under current circumstances.

“If a new variant of COVID comes out which is … difficult to treat or the spread was more aggressive than what it was then, yes, we would be in trouble and this may extend beyond 2024,’’ he said.

The Qatar boss is also confident business travel will eventually return to pre-COVID levels.

He acknowledged that there would not be much business traffic initially but said this was “only for the time being”.

“I am certain that the business traffic will start growing once the pandemic is brought under control,’’ he said, adding that people to whom he spoke felt they could conduct business better face-to-face rather than through technology.

He said it was important for people to know that airlines had passed through epidemics which also suggested business travel would be affected but this did not happen.

“I think the same will happen,’’ he said, adding that the reduced capacity of other premium carriers led Qatar to believe people would still fill its premium seats in the not-too-distant future.

Al Baker said high net worth passengers would continue to fly in premium cabins and pointed to the uptake on Qatar services to the Maldives, the Seychelles and Zanzibar.

Qatar would also continue to serve all the routes it started as a result of the blockade by neighboring states now the blockade was now lifting.

“We will continue because that is our growth strategy so we are not going to walk away from routes we are already operating,’’ he said.

“Post-COVID we will look at which routes we will reintroduce earlier than the others but we are not going withdraw from routes permanently.”

Asked about recent comments about the efficiency of the Airbus A380 compared to the A350,  he revealed Qatar would only bring back half its fleet of 10 superjumbos and criticized the 380 as “one of the worst” planes flying around today when it came to emissions.

“This is why we have decided we will not operate them for the foreseeable future,’’ he said. “And even when we operate them, we will only operate half of the numbers we have.”

The airline had already announced it planned to retire its A380s by 2024.