Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing international airlines operating one of the youngest fleets in the world. From its hub in Doha, the airline has developed a global network of destinations. In 2009, Qatar Airways chose the 2009 Paris Air Show to launch its new corporate jet subsidiary, Qatar Executive, as part of the airline’s ongoing global growth strategy and commitment to the Middle East business travel community. Don Parry reports
Based at Qatar Airways’ hub at Doha International Airport, the venture already had a recently delivered Bombardier Challenger 300 eight-seat aircraft with plans for the imminent delivery of two new Bombardier Challenger 605 aircraft, featuring 11 seats, capable of being able to fly non-stop up to 4,000nm, reaching destinations throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. Both aircraft feature seats that recline into fully berthable sleeping compartments, for optimum passenger comfort.
The venture seemed well timed but what were the overall reasons for setting up Qatar Executive? Qatar Airways’ Chief executive Officer, Akbar Al Baker, responds: ““Qatar Executive was created to capitalise on the growing demand for independent corporate travel which was, and remains, a highly underserved market. Qatar Airways had identified a huge gap in the market and is now well on the way to filling that void.
“We have been responding to the sustained regional demand to have private jets available to our corporate customers. Our passengers are paying a premium to fly our scheduled services and there is demand for greater flexibility to travel on private charter flights at their leisure or for business. This is a market segment that we are keen to develop ever since entering this sector last year.
He continues: “The figures speak for themselves. Statistics from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation show that the corporate market in the Middle East has grown at an average of 13% each year since 2000. Forecast growth is expected to be 15-20% through to 2012. The region’s corporate travel market is estimated to be worth between US$500 million and US$700 million a year.
“With an industry focus shifting towards low cost carriers, the premium top end of the market is being left open. It is a niche market with a proven track record of growth in this region, and one that we believe can be developed with the right approach.”
This expectation certainly seems to be satisfied and it was no great surprise that at this year’s Farnborough Air Show Qatar Airways announced it had purchased two Bombardier Global 5000, 13-seat aircraft in a deal worth US$90 million, as part of plans to develop its corporate jet subsidiary further. The new business jets were scheduled for delivery in October 2010 and August 2011; the first one arrived on schedule and reached Doha at the end of October.
Akbar Al Baker emphasises that as Qatar Executive increases its aircraft fleet, so too will it hire more pilots, more crew members and more ground staff to manage the business. The corporate jet division has people from around the world, all employed by the Qatar Airways Group.
Currently, the four corporate jets in the fleet have a range of up to 10 hours non-stop from the Doha base. The company’s geographical position in the heart of the Gulf allows it to offer a unique proposition to corporate customers, flying to different continents as far as Europe, Africa and Asia, all non-stop from Qatar. However, customers anywhere in the world can book Qatar Executive corporate jets to fly from wherever they want to any destination.
Akbar Al Baker is keen to stress that Qatar Executive has enjoyed excellent utilisation of its corporate jets. The aircraft have been booked to travel to destinations as far afield as China, Russia, Africa, Middle East and the US. “In fact, our longest non-stop flight to date has been 8 hours 17 minutes from Almaty to Milan. With our new Global 5000 joining the fleet, the range can stretch to as much as 10 hours, so we do look forward to some exciting further itineraries journeys for our corporate customers”, he says.
So is the aircraft maintenance unit separate from that of Qatar Airways? “Qatar Executive has a maintenance unit at Doha International Airport for its aircraft,” responds Akbar Al Baker. “At the end of 2010, it will have a dedicated hangar that will also allow for third party work, offering maintenance facilities to other operators in the region.”
In recent years, it has been an often-repeated comment that the Middle East has been recession proof. This was slightly dented when Dubai’s property bubble burst, so have the economic problems of the West impacted market expectations for Qatar Executive?
“Not at all,” says Akbar Al Baker. “In fact, the downturn in economies across the world has actually presented many opportunities for Qatar Executive. Industry body IATA maintains that the aviation industry across the whole of the Middle East remains robust, while rest of the world has lagged behind with slow recovery in passenger numbers. Qatar Airways has been able to capitalise on its reputation as an award-winning five-star carrier by attaching the same philosophies of exceptional service and innovation to its corporate charter jet subsidiary.
“This has helped the airline become recognised among its peers as one of the best carriers in the world, and will go a long way to ensuring the success of the relatively new corporate jet business. Individual wealth within the GCC region is expected to grow by over 50% during the 2008-2012 period, from US$2.1 trillion to around US$3.8 trillion. The State of Qatar itself has the highest GDP per capita in the world, so companies and individuals in the region are not short of money. Our corporate jet offering is available to those with disposable income and there are many in this region who prefer to travel on private charters as opposed to commercial scheduled airlines.”
When Qatar Executive was announced, it was claimed that the corporate traveller could book an aircraft in as little as four hours before departure and check-in 10 minutes prior to take-off. Has this been achieved in practice?
“Yes,” says Akbar Al Baker. ”I am pleased to say that we have achieved bookings to take off in as little as two hours for a recent flight from Doha to Geneva. This demonstrates how fast we are able to turnaround a booking and ensure a speedy service. We normally set ourselves four hours as a minimum time for a booking with 10 minutes check-in. At Doha International Airport, we are able to achieve these quick times as we have dedicated facilities for our passengers and we manage the airport. With the full support of the parent airline Qatar Airways, we are able to provide rapid turnarounds at our home base.”
The company’s mantra is that passengers with Qatar Executive fly in a “class of your own”. It is early days but the fleet is building, certainly parental backing is there and the Middle East, by all accounts, promises golden opportunities for operators in and into the region.