Qatar CEO Claims He's Got an Aircraft Shortage — But Also Offers to Lease Planes to Partners
Qatar Airways is still dealing with a blockade that suddenly cancelled 18 routes to neighboring countries, leading the airline to post what its CEO Akbar al Baker described as a "very large loss" this year. Since the blockade has gone into place, Qatar has found homes for idle aircraft by wet-leasing aircraft to British Airways. It is also leasing some Airbus A330s to its new parter Air Italy, in which it has bought a 49% stake.
Meanwhile, the Doha-based airline is aggressively expanding by launching a number of new routes. At a conference in March 2018, al Baker rattled off 15 new routes that Qatar would be launching -- and additional frequencies on nine other routes -- like it was an everyday occurrence.
Now, it seems like a combination of these new routes and leasing aircraft is catching up with the airline. At a conference this week, al Baker claimed that Qatar is now "short of aircraft." However, shortly after saying that, he reiterated that if Qatar's partners need more aircraft, the airline "can always adjust our schedule to help them." So, does he have too few aircraft, or enough to lease out?
Al Baker is known for making statements which aren't always based on fact, but the airline could actually be in a situation where it both has excess aircraft and an aircraft shortage. Due to the blockade, Qatar is having to route around its largest neighbors, adding significant mileage to many flights. This extra mileage is requiring upgauging from narrow-body aircraft to longer-range, wide-body aircraft on some routes. Qatar's leases to British Airways and Air Italy primarily have been wide-body aircraft. So, the airline could actually have excess narrow-body aircraft while fully utilizing its wide-body fleet.
This announcement of an aircraft shortage -- but simultaneously the offer to help partner airlines if needed -- comes shortly after al Baker vocally threatened to pull Qatar Airways out of the Oneworld alliance. This may be more al Baker grandstanding than an actual risk. But it may make sense at some point for Qatar Airways to consider actually leaving Oneworld to focus on its own growing portfolio of airline investments. Qatar is the only one of the Middle East Three airlines to be part of an alliance; Emirates and Etihad are not.