Qatar Airways has not closed the door on plans to start an airline in India: Akbar Al Baker

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on November 07, 2019 Published on November 07, 2019

Akbar Al Baker, Group Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways

The rules on foreign ownership of an airline in India are not clear, says Akbar Al Baker, Group Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has not given up on its plans for starting an airline in India, despite announcing a code-share agreement with IndiGo on Thursday, said. In an exclusive interview to the HinduBusinessLine, Al Baker outlines why his airline has no interest in Air India’s divestment and plans to attract Indian football fans for the FIFA 2022 World Cup, which Qatar is hosting.

What happens to your plans for starting an airline in India after today's announcement of a codeshare with IndiGo Airlines?

We are still open to starting an airline in India. But we really do not have direction on exactly how to do it, because we get so many mixed messages.

Mixed messages like what?

From the bureaucracy here. That an airline can have a stake in an Indian carrier, that a foreign carrier can launch an airline in India. Then the next is that no, they can only go up to 49 per cent, but a sovereign fund can own 100 per cent of an Indian domestic carrier. So, what happens when a sovereign fund owns an airline? If a sovereign fund can own an airline – a domestic Indian carrier – then why not an airline which is owned by a sovereign fund? It is really mixed up. So, we really do not know what is the rule.

Why is there no interest in Air India? It has many slots, including in London Heathrow?

Look, it is not all about slots. Qatar Airways also has a lot of slots. Actually, we have more slots than Air India has at Heathrow.

So it’s about the organisation of the airline, how you will be able to run it, how much flexibility you will have in recruiting and laying off people. There are a lot of things that an airline requires to be successful.

Now, with the tie-up with IndiGo, will Qatar consider giving fifth and sixth freedom rights to IndiGo, basically the right to carry passengers beyond Doha?

Indian carriers already have fifth and sixth freedom rights. We have a very liberal air services regime in Qatar. We have no problems giving Indian carriers beyond rights.

So, technically speaking, an IndiGo aircraft can land in Qatar and carry passengers onwards?

No problems at all.

How many passengers do you think you will be able to get as a result of the code share announced with IndiGo?

On a daily basis we will be able to get at least 250 passengers on the three cities where the code share has been announced. (The code share will initially cover the Doha-Hyderabad, Doha-Mumbai and Doha-Delhi routes).

To how many more cities will Qatar want a codeshare with IndiGo ?

We are open. The only thing is IndiGo will take a little bit more time to roll out their systems, to be able to do a code-share with Qatar Airways.

Is the ultimate step of the agreement buying into IndiGo?

At the moment I do not know, and would not like to comment on it. Let us see what the future holds for us.

Any special arrangements for Indian football fans travelling to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup 2020?

We have huge arrangements. They will be rolled out at the beginning of next year, when Indians will be able to take a total package, which will include tickets for the match, tickets on the airline and hotel bookings -- all in one document.

Published on November 07, 2019
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