Qatar Airways to soon apply for launch of Indian airline, says CEO

The proposed airline will be funded by Qatar’s sovereign fund, says Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.

Qatar Airways is preparing to launch a full-service airline in India and will file its application soon, chief executive Akbar Al Baker said. The proposed airline will be funded by Qatar’s sovereign fund, Al Baker told Press Trust of India (PTI) on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) annual general meeting in Sydney on Wednesday.

“It would have Indians heading the board and as most of its members,” Al Baker said a day after he was named the chairman of IATA’s board of governors.

“We will move the application soon. I don’t know really by when because it (the process) takes time,” Al Baker added.

India permits 100% foreign direct investment in domestic airlines, but foreign airlines can invest only up to 49%. There are three full-service carriers in India— Air India, Jet Airways and Vistara Airlines. Qatar Airways had in March 2017 first expressed its desire to operate an airline in India.

In December, the airline had said it would like to add more flights to India in the future as the country is an economic superpower and an important destination for it. In February, 2018 Al Baker had said that the airline plans to launch an airline in India with a fleet of at least 100 planes.

“I will not tell you what types of aeroplanes we will deploy in India, but as you may remember, we said that we will launch an airline in India which will have a fleet of at least 100 aircraft,” he had said.

Queries sent to Qatar Airways were not answered till press time. Industry experts said the Saudi airspace blockage and travel ban to the US have forced Qatar Airways to look at other lucrative markets like India to expand operations.

“It makes strategic sense for Qatar Airways to set shop in India,” said Mark Martin, founder and chief executive officer of aviation consultancy Martin Consulting LLC.

“However, it will take at least 12-18 months for the airline to be up and running after it decides to go through the process of setting up an airline in the country,” Martin said, adding that even if Qatar Airways starts with the process right away, it will be able to start an Indian airline only by 2020.

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