Qatar Airways Is Adding 18 New Airports to Its Network
The airline recently unveiled global expansion plans—with an eye on growing sustainably. Qatar’s national carrier says it’s investing big in alternative fuels and is giving bonuses to pilots who conserve the most fuel.
Qatar Airways plans to expand its flight schedule across U.S. airports and has its sights set on reaching 250 destinations worldwide, CEO Akbar Al Baker told reporters at a news conference in Seattle earlier this month.
Already in 2023, Qatar’s national airline has added three new flight destinations (Trabzon, Turkey; Lyon, France, and Toulouse, France) and has resumed service to seven more, after halting operations during the COVID slowdown (Beijing, China; Davao, Philippines; Nice, France; Tokyo Haneda, Japan; Casablanca and Marrakesh, Morocco; and Birmingham, England).
By the end of 2023, Qatar will add service to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Ras Al Kaimah, United Arab Emirates. By next summer, six more destinations are planned: Medan, Indonesia; Chittagong, Bangladesh; Osaka, Japan; Juba, South Sudan; Kinshasa, Congo; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The additions will bring the airline’s reach to 185 airports worldwide.
Due to aircraft manufacturing delays (many of which are the result of COVID-era supply chain backlogs, according to Al Baker), some of Qatar Airways’ expansion plans to a total of 250 global gateways will have to wait until 2025 or 2026 when Boeing and Airbus can deliver additional aircraft.
Qatar Airways is known for its best-in-class business seats and service, and Al Baker says he is confident global passenger demand will support the airline’s growth. “We’re within seven hours [of flight time] to 65 percent of the world’s population,” from Qatar’s headquarters of Hamad Airport in Doha, says Al Baker. Among the airline’s strategic expansion targets are markets in India and Africa, which Al Baker says are currently “poorly serviced, for both quantity and quality” when it comes to air travel. While Qatar Airways sees huge opportunities for these markets, Al Baker cautions that “infrastructure constraints,” including the need for more and better airports and improved management of airspace and runway capacity, could slow the carrier’s ambitions in the two regions.
“There’s so much business to go around,” for new markets, says Al Baker. “But who will be successful is who will make the most efficient travel hubs and quickest connections.”
Qatar Airways’ U.S. expansion plans
Stateside, Qatar Airways plans to double departures to twice daily from Seattle and Miami, with the timing of the increased service based on aircraft availability, according to Al Baker. Beginning October 29, the carrier will also expand service from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to three flights a day from its current twice daily schedule.
Additionally, Qatar Airways will be beefing up its Washington, D.C. flight schedule during the winter. The airline will add a 10:35 a.m. departure from Dulles International Airport that will operate between three and five days per week, in addition to the current daily 8:05 p.m. departures, Craig Thomas, Qatar Airways’ vice president of sales for the Americas, said in a statement to AFAR.
In the coming weeks Qatar will be optimizing code sharing partnerships with American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Alaska Airlines, giving customers an improved ability to book connecting flights with those airlines and Qatar Airways on a single ticket, regardless of which airline website is used for booking.
The U.S. market represents an important opportunity for Qatar Airways not only for traditional leisure passenger traffic, but because of “the huge diaspora of people from our region” who now live in the United States, according to Al Baker.
Focus on sustainability
During the news conference, Qatar Airways shared the airline’s latest sustainability initiatives, including its efforts to help develop and use non-petroleum-based sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). “Our country is an oil producer, but not a major producer like our neighbors,” says Al Baker, noting that Qatar has a vested interest in alternative fuels.
The airline is currently engaged in more than 70 fuel optimization projects, from purchasing the most fuel-efficient aircraft to providing incentives to pilots who save the most fuel during flights and while taxiing on runways. Qatar Airways is also continuing to invest in biofuel development, funding an algae-based biofuel program at Qatar University.
Qatar Airways has set a goal to reach a target of using SAFs as 10 percent of its fuel supply worldwide by 2030, according to a presentation shared during the Seattle news conference. In May 2023, the airline signed a deal with Shell to use a 5 percent SAF blend for all Amsterdam flights over the next fiscal year, reducing flight emissions by 7,500 tons of CO2 during that time, according to the airline.
The challenge for SAF usage, according to Al Baker, is its current high cost. “Right now SAF is four to five times as expensive as regular fuel,” says the CEO. “We can pay 10 to 15 percent more, but a 500 percent increase would make air travel unaffordable.” To that end, Al Akbar says Qatar Airways is “one of the few airlines putting pressure on manufacturers” to accelerate affordable SAF development.
Many of the world’s largest airlines have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, something that will require greater access to SAF to achieve.