Qatar’s plans for aviation expansion

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Moving to increase its air transport and logistics capacity, Qatar has directed new funds towards the upgrade of Doha’s Hamad International Airport (HIA), while Qatar Airways, the nation’s flag carrier, has also forged new passenger and cargo links.

In its 2019 budget statement, released in December, the government allocated QR1bn ($274.6m) to phase two of HIA’s ongoing redevelopment. The second phase, which starts in the second half of 2019, will involve the expansion of cargo and passenger terminals, along with the near doubling of retail capacity, increasing space available from 40,000 to 75,000 sq metres.

Scheduled for completion in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the upgraded airport will be able to accommodate more than 53m passengers per year, up from 30m, and 3m tonnes of cargo, up from 1.9m. According to HIA, the facility is already operating at overcapacity, having served 34.5m passengers and handled 2.2m tonnes of cargo last year. While the former figure represented a slight decrease from the 35.3m passengers recorded in 2017, the latter equated to nearly a 14% increase.

In October the airport also unveiled 62 self-check-in kiosks, 12 self-service bag drops and a mobile automated visa document check machine – the first of its kind at any major international airport. The new facilities marked the completion of the first phase of HIA’s Smart Airport Programme, which was launched in 2016 and aims to improve the customer experience and speed up passenger-processing times.

See also: The Report – Qatar 2017

Qatar Airways launches new passenger routes to Scotland, Vietnam

The airport’s redevelopment dovetails with Qatar’s ambition to tap into new tourism markets in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

“The government is working to build Qatar as a destination for travel and tourism,” Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, chairman of local investment management firm Al Faisal Holding, told OBG. “Our appealing weather conditions during winter make it a very attractive destination for Europeans, for example.”

Indeed, the European market is one Qatar Airways has sought to increase connectivity with. In February the airline announced that it would be adding a second daily flight between Edinburgh Airport and HIA every Monday in April to cater to travellers during the Easter holiday season, with twice-daily services to be introduced in the summer as well.

The news came less than two months after the carrier launched its inaugural flight to Da Nang International Airport. The city is the airline’s third Vietnamese destination and is being served by Boeing B787-8 aircraft four times per week.

Cargo connections added in Asia, the Americas

In addition, the airline has sought to expand operations under its freight arm Qatar Airways Cargo, which commenced belly-hold flights to Da Nang in conjunction with the new passenger route. Qatar Airways Cargo now flies more than 1400 tonnes out of Vietnam every week, with the main exports from Da Nang consisting of garments, perishables and electronics.

The company has similarly bolstered connectivity with Central America, adding Guadalajara in Mexico as a destination on its trans-Pacific freighter route in early January this year. The Boeing 777 freighter departs from Macau, stopping at Los Angeles, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Liège in Belgium en route to Doha. The airline says that general cargo makes up the majority of imports on the service.

Application for ICAO membership, completion of draft aviation pact with the EU

On top of moves to expand the reach of the aviation industry, officials have made significant progress in strengthening relationships with international bodies.

“Since June 2017 we have established deeper collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO),” Abdulla Nasser Turki Al Subaey, president of the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, told OBG. “Qatar is campaigning to become a full member of the ICAO Council; elections will be held during the assembly meeting between September and October.”

Joining the 36-member ICAO would likely give Qatar significant influence in the development of the international air transport network. For its membership to be approved, a minimum three-fifths of ICAO’s member states must approve the bid.

Meanwhile, in February the EU and Qatar completed a draft comprehensive air services agreement. If approved by all EU member states, it will see a single set of regulations implemented for all flights between the EU and Qatar, which could lead to a series of flow-on benefits.

According to Violeta Bulc, European commissioner for transport, if passed, the agreement will likely create new jobs, facilitate business opportunities and improve passenger prices.

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