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Qatar Airways in no rush to add CSeries

April 13, 2012, Montreal - Qatar Airways is in no rush to add Bombardier's CSeries aircraft to its growing fleet but will order several business jets to expand its executive service, the airline's CEO said Thursday.


April 13, 2012
By The Canadian Press

Akbar Al Baker said he will announce an order for Bombardier's new Global aircraft at next month's Ebace air show in Geneva, for delivery around 2016 or 2017.

The airline already operates a fleet of six Bombardier business jets. It hopes to eventually offer 10 to 15 aircraft, but Al Baker wouldn't say how many planes would be included in this order.

Qatar has shelved plans to order the CSeries while it is busy preparing to receive four new aircraft types — Boeing 787, Airbus A350 and A320Neo and another he didn't want to identify. The company is spending more than US$50 billion for 270 airplanes.

Nonetheless he remains interested in eventually ordering 20 to 30 of the larger version of the 110- to 149-seat commercial plane, plus adding as many options. The aircraft would be used for Qatar's regional service and flights of less than 2 1/2 hours from Doha.

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"The CSeries is a very good airplane for a niche market,'' he told reporters after a lunch-hour speech.

"It is very fuel efficient and it is a very technologically advanced aircraft and I'm sure that Bombardier will be very successful in this venture.''

Al Baker planned to tour Bombardier's production facilities and see the plane's updated cockpit and systems designs. The CSeries is slated to enter into service the end of 2013, with the larger model following a year later.

Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin said the company is still in discussion with Qatar over a CSeries order.

"It's a product that gives the performance that is needed in that region,'' he told reporters.

Beaudoin added that the train maker is also interested in metro, light rail and tramway projects that are planned for Qatar as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup of soccer.

Meanwhile, Al Baker said Canadians deserve better airline service to the Middle East made possible by an expansion of the number of landing rights granted to Doha.

The three weekly flights launched last June from Montreal are running ahead of expectations and travelling 85 per cent full.

A similar number of cargo flights are offered weekly, along with return flights from the Middle East.

It would like to operate at least four flights a day from Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

The outspoken airline executive accused Ottawa of blocking that expansion to protect Air Canada from competition.

"I don't think they are in collusion in any way, but the government is trying to protect Air Canada,'' he added.

Al Baker said he faces no such opposition anywhere else in the world and questioned why the federal government is protecting Canada's largest carrier and its alliance partners, even though it produces weak financial results and forces passengers to connect through inefficient airports.

"If I was the prime minister or if I was the government I would tell Air Canada to go to hell.''

Qatar has no plans to withdraw service if it doesn't win additional landing slots and is not worried that blunt talk may hamper its efforts.

"At the end of day I'm a foreigner trying to serve the people of Canada and if I'm not welcome then fine,'' Al Baker said.

But he said the aggressive expansion plans by Qatar Airways and other Middle East carriers such as Emirates Airlines is a new model that won't disappear.

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu has criticized efforts to use hubs in the Middle East for Canadian travellers. He has argued that an eventual reduction in traffic flow through hubs used by Air Canada and its Star Alliance partners would ultimately threaten the viability of direct flights from secondary Canadian airports.

Al Baker said that additional flights by Qatar can easily be accommodated to reduce flying time to 113 destinations through its gateway.

He said the more than 6,000 Canadians living in the Middle Eastern country, along with visitors, can bypass intense American security by increasingly flying to Doha.

"You don't want every Canadian to be looked at as a terrorist and go through unnecessary searches,'' he said in an earlier speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Montreal is Qatar's fourth North American gateway, in addition to Houston, New York and Washington.

Return travel costs around $2,300, including taxes, for direct 13-hour flights. That's several hundred dollars more than traditional routes through Europe but at a fraction of the time.