Following the $100bn-worth of investments expected to be made in developing airport infrastructure in the Middle East by 2025, according to Khaleej Times, the aviation industry within the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries is poised for a period of exponential growth. With the combined annual capacity of the Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports estimated to reach 190 million passengers by 2015, according to a report by Nadd Al Shiba PR and Event Management, Qatar Airways is set to further accelerate its growth as one of the world's fastest growing airlines.

“Qatar Airways is one of the most efficient airline operators in the industry and we are also based in one of the most economically robust regions in the world, so we were largely unaffected [by the financial crisis] and we even managed to expand during [this] period,” says Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways. “We continued to grow in line with our aggressive growth strategy by increasing capacity, ordering more aircrafts and recruiting more staff.”

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As the national carrier of Qatar, Qatar Airways is 50% owned by Qatar’s government and 50% owned by members of the country's ruling family. “After only 15 years in business, we are extremely proud of our achievements,” says Mr Al Baker. “We have worked hard to transform Qatar Airways into the high-profile carrier it is today. Our commitment is to provide travellers with the highest quality of service in the air and on the ground, while affording greater choice of travel to destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.”

Qatar's take-off

Qatar Airways’ growth has been in part influenced by its position within the GCC, which is set to be one of the major growth markets for the aviation industry. Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and the Emirates Group are expected to have a combined capacity of 200 million passengers by 2020 according to Khaleej Times. Yet far from relying on fortunate geographical positioning alone, Qatar has been firmly in the driving seat of its success, setting in place the relevant infrastructure to increase the country's global appeal as both a travel destination and an air hub.

Qatar is developing at a rapid pace, with more than 300 new skyscrapers set to be completed by 2022, which is when the FIFA World Cup is scheduled to be held in the country. Furthermore, Qatar has developed Doha International Airport to cope with the expected increase in passenger traffic.

“Located at the crossroads between East and West, Doha is ideally situated as a major gateway for international air transport,” says Mr Al Baker. “This year will see the opening of the New Doha International Airport and [it] will elevate Qatar Airways onto a new level as a major global carrier, [as well as] help position Doha as a major international gateway into the region. The opening of this new airport will place Qatar Airways in a very strong position as a global commercial and cargo carrier.”

Scheduled to open by the end of 2012, Doha’s revamped international airport is expected to accommodate up to 28 million passengers and handle 750,000 tonnes of cargo every year. By 2015, this number is expected to rise to 50 million passengers and 2 million tonnes of cargo, with 320,000 aircraft landings and take-offs each year.

Getting bigger

As the national carrier of the tiny peninsula that is rich in oil and gas, Qatar Airways has never been short of funds. With Qatar’s sovereign wealth funds estimated by the Financial Times to have growth to assets of more than $80bn, Mr Al Baker remains bold in his aspirations. “Qatar Airways Cargo has significantly ramped up its expansion in the past year with the introduction of brand new Boeing 777 freighters, adding capacity to the airline’s dedicated cargo network,” he says.

“Qatar Airways Cargo provides services to more than 100 destinations across six continents worldwide, using the cargo space available on Qatar Airways’ passenger aircraft fleet, as well as a dedicated network operated by its Airbus A300-600 freighters. Following our acquisition of a 35% stake in Cargolux, Europe’s largest cargo airline, we have been able to operate a wider network of freighter services and increase our focus on freighter operations, which ties seamlessly into the airline’s strategy to have as many connecting points across the globe from our Doha hub. Our dedicated cargo network is an extension of Qatar Airways’ strategy to develop its global air transport business.”

One of Qatar Airways’ unique selling points has been its focus on expanding its operations into emerging markets. Qatar’s growth rate has in part stemmed from the first-mover advantage it gained from operating in markets that other airlines deemed as too risky, and as Mr Al Baker tells fDi Magazine, emerging countries will play a key role in the airline’s expansion strategy.

Commenting on the launch of its new route to Rwanda, Mr Al Baker says: “We are pleased to be reinforcing our presence in Africa with the addition of scheduled flights to Rwanda. This is just one example of the airline’s efforts to fly to underserved markets. Rwanda, as well as further additions to the network such as Uganda and Kenya, is very much in keeping with our highly focused and tailored growth strategy to enter underserved and thriving markets all over the world, and match our plans to open up a host of new destinations and ongoing commitment to international growth. As a network global carrier we are able to fulfil the needs of the travelling public from such markets and for those wanting to travel there from destinations we serve around the world.”

Flexible attitude

Although the airline’s global network currently stands at 116 destinations, Qatar Airways is set to further expand, with global capacity increases being continuously phased in. Moreover, when questioned about his concerns on the effect the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings could have on Qatar Airways as a business, Mr Al Baker is unperturbed. “Qatar Airways was not immune from the Arab Spring, since it took place within the region,” he says. “As for other economic factors, we are accustomed to facing challenges in our industry, and we are flexible enough to adapt our operations to ensure we are maximising capacity and efficiency at minimum cost. This year alone will see Qatar Airways take delivery of one new aircraft every 15 days, reflecting our long-term strategy of expanding and modernising the fleet with newer and more fuel-efficient aircraft.”

Qatar Airways is on the march globally and it seems that its growth will continue to set it apart from an aviation sector that otherwise remains beset by setbacks stemming from the global economic downturn.