Qatar Airways targets expansion strategy to ‘defeat’ regional blockade

  • Qatar's flagship airline is embarking on a strategy of expansion in part to counter losses borne by the regional embargo imposed on it in 2017.
  • Airbus delivered its first A350-1000 jet to Qatar Airways on Tuesday, which will allow it to offer longer flights to more destinations.
  • Several Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last June, accusing the tiny oil-rich state of supporting terrorism, which Qatar denied.

Qatar's flagship airline is embarking on a strategy of expansion in part to counter losses borne by the regional embargo imposed on it in 2017 by several neighboring states.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker told CNBC on Tuesday that he would bring an end to the "illegal" blockade through a policy of increased flight frequencies.

"We are focusing everywhere in the world, we've been increasing frequencies into Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, increasing our network into the sub-continent, so we are going all over the place," he said. "We are very determined to make sure that this illegal blockade is defeated in a very, very strong way."

Several Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last June, accusing the tiny oil-rich state of supporting terrorism. Qatar rejected the accusations.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on their neighbor, closing their land, sea and air borders with Qatar.

Qatar Airways initially predicted losses for the 2017 financial year due to the blockade, but Al-Baker suggested Tuesday that these will be softer than first anticipated. The company's annual financial results will not be out until late March.

"In addition to this we are expanding, we're keeping on stretching our global network, we are increasing frequencies and we are doing other investments that will give us positive returns on our balance sheet," Al-Baker said.

Airbus delivered its first A350-1000 jet to Qatar Airways on Tuesday.

The aircraft, which will make its first commercial flight Saturday between Doha and London Heathrow, has the longest fuselage of any of the A350 family and can fly further than the previous -800 and -900 models.

"The features of this airplane is that is has improved wings, improved performance and, at the same time, the first A350-1000 that has our Q-Suite (business class), which is the industry leader in passenger comfort," Al-Baker said.

The delivery was delayed from late last year; Qatar Airways first placed an order for the A350-1000 in 2005 and has 42 of the aircraft on order.

The A350-1000 is fitted with Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines that will provide "additional payload capability and range," according to an Airbus press release. With capacity for 366 passengers, the French manufacturer also claimed it's the quietest cabin in the air.