Posted on May 05, 2011

Qatar Airways will press for daily flights to four cities in Canada in a bid to muscle in on national carrier Air Canada’s long-haul market, the airline’s CEO said Wednesday.

“I think [Canada] is currently underserved, a lot of passengers are going through the USA because there are not enough airlines [offering] international flights out of Canada unless you want to go by Air Canada,” Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, told Arabian Business. “We already have rights to fly to four cities in Canada but with only three frequencies a week so quite normally we would like at least a daily frequency to all of these four destinations.”

The Doha-based airline will launch its first route to Montreal on June 29. Rival Gulf carriers Etihad and Emirates were denied fresh landing slots in November by Canada’s transport agency, sparking a widespread diplomatic row between the two countries. The Gulf state retaliated with the closure of Camp Mirage, a secret military base located outside Dubai and used to supply Canadian troops in Afghanistan. In December, the UAE Embassy announced Canadian citizens would no longer receive free visas. Instead, tourists must now pay up to $1,000 Canadian dollars to enter the country.

Canada’s protectionist attitude towards Gulf carriers is to the detriment of the passengers, said Al Baker, “I think that Emirates request for additional rights to Canada is legitimate. Qatar Airways will be asking for additional flights because, quite simply, there is a protectionist tendency towards Air Canada,” he said. “I think it is in the interest…..of the traveling public for Canada to have competition of high quality airlines like us and Emirates,” he said. “I think once there is a new government in Canada that they will look at it in a more favourable and more business-like atmosphere.”

Qatar Airways has made no secret of its ambitious expansion plans. Along with Gulf rivals Etihad and Emirates Airway, Qatar Airways is one of the largest buyers of new aircraft, with orders for 80 Airbus A350s, 60 Boeing 787s and five Airbus SAS A380s. The airline, which sees its fleet size growing to 120 aircraft over the next two years, is also in talks with Airbus to purchase additional A380s, CEO Akbar Al Baker said Monday. The state-backed airline said in March it would hire 11,500 new staff over the next three years to keep pace with an expansion plan that will see it serve 120 destinations by 2013.

Qatar Airways, half-owned by the state's sovereign wealth Qatar Investment Authority, also said this week it plans to acquire a third of European air cargo company Cargolux. The airline said in December it would launch an initial public offering (IPO) in early 2012 after three consecutive years of profit.

source: Arabian Business