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Qatar Airways Weighs up Re-opening of Route Network

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In the latest Wales Business Review, former First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones spoke to Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways and Secretary-General of Qatar National Tourism Council

Qatar Airways will gradually restart services to destinations across its route network after reviewing routes to see which are most viable in the new post-Covid conditions, Group CEO Akbar Al Baker told Business News Wales.

In the latest edition of the Wales Business Review hosted by former First Minister Carwyn Jones, Mr Al Baker said  he expected to see a reduction in business and tourist travel and that this would have an impact on the re-opening of services.

Mr Al Baker said:

“Over the next two years we are going to revisit our complete route network, and we will see how we can still continue to serve Cardiff and include it in the new network that we will have to now develop, especially that there will be a lot less people travelling, and I don’t see that business travel coming back very soon.”

Mr Al Baker said he did not expect business travel to return to the volumes it was at before the pandemic.

“People are getting used to doing video conferences, working from home, trying to save costs, which will be the new normal for the foreseeable future,” he said.

“The only business class travellers will be the people that will travel to visit places and friends and that will take at least two or three years to get back. So the airline industry and the travel industry is in for a longer recession.”

Cardiff was not the only airport that Qatar Airways suspended services to as a result of the pandemic, Mr Al Baker said. Flights to Birmingham have also been stopped, and the Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh routes have seen reduced frequencies.

“This downturn will continue for the foreseeable future. As an airline CEO I have to make sure I burn less cash,” Mr Al Baker said.

He paid tribute to the perseverance of former Cardiff Airport chairman Roger Lewis in persuading Qatar Airways to come to Cardiff instead of Bristol.

And he credited the route with helping to boost sales of Welsh lamb in the Gulf region.

“Till we started operating to Cardiff, most of your cargo was trucked to other airports to connect to international flights. With Qatar Airways there you didn’t need to do that anymore. So we gave the business community opportunity to connect out of your airport directly,” he said.

“My country is a very high consumer of lamb, and you in Wales have very good lamb and an opportunity to export that lamb to my country. We were instrumental together with Roger introducing the lamb exporters to the Qatar market.”

Mr Al Baker said the relationship between the airline and Cardiff Airport had developed “in a good way” and that he had received a letter from new airport chairman Wayne Harvey who is keen to continue the relationship built by Roger Lewis.

The full Wales Business Review series can be watched on Business New Wales.