Less than four months after Qatar Airways introduced daily flights between Kolkata and Doha, it is considering the viability of introducing a bigger aircraft to augment seat capacity by 40%. Apart from seven passenger flights, Qatar Airways also operates two freighters to Kolkata every week."With passenger load in excess of 90% on the Kolkata-Doha sector, we are considering replacing the narrow-bodied Airbus A-320 aircraft with wide-bodied A-330 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner," Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said on Wednesday.
Speaking to TOI, the airline official said consistent loads on the sector despite the economic turbulence worldwide had instilled enough confidence for the carrier to consider a capacity hike. "At Qatar, we are very careful while launching new sectors. We usually commence service with narrow bodied aircraft before switching the wide-bodied when the market grows. We don't believe in jeopardizing existing carriers in a market by dumping capacity or slashing fares beyond the promotional period," Baker said.
The Gulf state has 500,000 Indians, including a sizeable community from Bengal working in IT and construction sector. This generates a good market for visiting friends and relatives. Moreover, with the airline offering the shortest connection to Europe via the region, many passengers have opted for it in recent months. Incidentally, one in every four employee in the airline is an Indian.
"At present, we are receiving a new aircraft every 18 days. From next year, the frequency of delivery will increase to 15 days and will peak in 2013 when a new plane will arrive every 12 days. To match the pace, we induct 300 new pilots a year and recruit 250 flight attendants every month," the CEO said.
Sometime mid next year, the company will also go green with the introduction of gas to liquid (GTL) fuel being developed by Qatar Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. The synthetic fuel that does not contain sulphur will be mixed with aviation fuel in equal measure to fly aircraft fitted with Rolls Royce engines. With GE, the other engine manufacturer, yet to ratify the fuel, flights to Kolkata will continue to run on ATF.
On the turbulence in the air over high fuel price, Baker said every time the price of oil went up by $1, Qatar Airways bottom-line took a $40-million hit. "Nearly 42% of the operational cost of a carrier is fuel, up from 35% two years ago," he said. On the proposed foreign direct investment in Indian aviation sector, Baker said the airline was in talks with some airlines but did not elaborate further. The airline had been similarly tightlipped when it acquired 35% stake in Luxembourg-based cargo airline Cargolux.
Providing an alternative in aircraft will not be a problem for the airline as it has ordered a huge number of aircraft to both augment its fleet and replace existing aircraft to keep the average age down to five years.