As Hamad International Airport (HIA) prepares to ramp up operations with the next phase of its multi-billion-dollar expansion, bringing total annual capacity to over 50m passengers, a number of connections to Doha have been launched, particularly to the US and to popular locations within Asia. Passenger inflows are set to swell as a result, with state-owned Qatar Airways (QA) leading the charge in new route development, in addition to expanding its niche dedicated pharmaceutical services.
QA has been active in adding routes in recent years, with 12 new destinations introduced annually between 2012 and 2014, and an additional eight in 2015. The 2012-14 expansionary period brought new routes to the UAE, a number of new destinations in Africa, and an ambitious expansion into the US via Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas. Following this, QA intensified its focus on existing routes, including Amsterdam and Istanbul, in 2015, while adding new destinations including Zanzibar (Tanzania), Durban (South Africa) and Abha (Saudi Arabia). Expansion plans for 2016 include 14 new routes, the majority focusing on new markets in the US and Australia.
QA’s cargo volumes are also expected to rise after the airline moved in November 2015 to add two new Pharma Express routes from India to Doha, offering dedicated services to the pharmaceuticals industry. The first route, launched on November 10, is from Mumbai to Doha via Ahmedabad on Tuesdays and Fridays, while the second route, launched on November 11, connects Hyderabad and Doha on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The announcement followed the success of a launch of a Pharma Express route between Brussels, Basel and Doha in January 2015. QA is the only airline offering a dedicated pharmaceutical service.
Outside of new routes through QA, aviation authorities are actively working to expand existing popular services to HIA, which is about to begin a second phase of expansion that will bring total annual passenger capacity to 53m by 2020, through new frequency allotments to outside carriers. In June 2015, for example, following a round of negotiations with the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA), Qatar and the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding to increase air traffic between Doha and Manila to two flights per day, with plans in the works to sign an open skies agreement between Doha and other major cities in the Philippines.
In September 2015 The Peninsula newspaper reported that flight frequencies between the two were set to rise from eight to 14 the following month, stating that new frequencies were awarded to low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific and legacy carrier Philippines Airlines (PAL). In December 2015 PAL announced that it would begin offering a service from Manila to Doha four times a week, starting in March 2016.
New routes between Doha and Europe could also be added in the coming months, following a November 2015 meeting between the EU transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, the minister of transport, Jassim bin Saif Ahmed Al Sulaiti, and QA’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker. The meeting focused on the establishment of a comprehensive agreement for deeper aviation cooperation, in the lead-up to the EU’s publication of a unified aviation strategy.
As of the end of 2015 the national airline was offering services to a combined 32 European cities, and in March 2016 it began operating a new route to Birmingham, joining other UK destinations – namely, London, Manchester and Edinburgh. “Up to eight countries are expected to sign air service agreements with Qatar in 2016. The aim is to enhance connectivity and support the growth of QA, which is one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines, particularly in developing long-haul routes,” Abdulla Nasser Turki Al Subaey, chairman of the QCAA, told OBG.