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Qatar air chief accelerates India push, plans new routes to UK
[LONDON] Qatar Airways Ltd may order 100 new jetliners before the end of this year to power its push into India and also plans to announce two new routes to the UK even as the country prepares to exit the European Union, chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said.
The Persian Gulf carrier is confident that a new aviation policy mapped out by "futuristic" Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will permit 100 per cent foreign ownership of a domestic airline, Al Baker said Monday in London.
Qatar Airways is briefing lawyers in India and will seek formally to establish the new airline soon, with a tender for aircraft to follow.
"It could be this year," the CEO told journalists after addressing the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum.
"It depends how fast we can arrange our application."
Mr Al Baker revealed last month that he planned to set up an Indian carrier with a fleet of 100 narrow-body jets, breaking into a fast-growing market where local rules previously prevented full ownership by foreign airlines. He said at the time that the Qatar Investment Authority could fund the venture, leaving Qatar Air to run it, though it's not clear whether such an arrangement would avoid the curb.
Qatar Air is targeting an Indian foothold after Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi took a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways India Ltd. Leading Asian carriers Singapore Airlines Ltd and AirAsia Bhd also have 49 per cent holdings in affiliates in the subcontinent, though no foreign operator has been able to acquire full control.
Mr Al Baker sought to use QIA to secure a position in discount specialist Indigo during its initial public offering, but the fund failed to gain the required approvals in time.
Qatar Air's expansion plans elsewhere include the addition of two new routes to Britain, the CEO said at the investment event. The carrier already offers 72 weekly services to the UK, where it serves London's Heathrow hub as well as Manchester and Birmingham in England and Edinburgh in Scotland.
Mr Al Baker said his company accepts that a ban on passengers carrying large electronic devices aboard US-bound flights from a clutch of Mideast and African nations including Qatar is a "security decision," adding that it's too early to say if the measures will hurt business.
"I don't think it is targeted at Gulf airlines," he said.
"It is a decision made by the United States that we as an operator have to follow. We have to comply and make sure that we don't cause any inconvenience to our passengers."
Qatar Air customers bound for the US are required to surrender their laptops and other equipment when passing through security screening, unlike those at Dubai-based Emirates, who can hang on to them until the gate. Qatar Air doesn't plan to hand out loaner devices in the cabin, something Emirates President Tim Clark has said may be an option.
"We don't want to do anything that will violate the directions we have received," Mr Al Baker said.