Qatar Airways Prepares For World Cup, Heathrow Capacity Cuts

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker meets journalists at Farnborough on July 19.
Credit: Alan Dron/Aviation Week Network

FARNBOROUGH—Qatar Airways will have to grit its teeth and take a financial hit as it makes drastic changes to its schedules during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this autumn, group CEO Akbar Al Baker said at the Farnborough Airshow on Tuesday.

The airline will either completely halt or reduce frequencies to more than 30 destinations in its network as it focuses on shuttling soccer fans to and from the emirate from Nov. 17 to Dec. 16.

Qatar has limited hotel space, so many spectators will have to stay in neighboring Gulf states and fly in for the dates of their national teams’ matches.

The long-term effect on Qatar Airways’ market share in nations from which it will temporarily pull back is not known.

“It’s a pain we will have to take and it’s only for a period of 30 days,” Al Baker said at a table meeting with journalists at Farnborough.

At its Hamad International Airport hub in Doha, the airline will modify the structure of its banks of flights over the period of the tournament, freeing slots for airlines from those countries whose national teams are playing in the event, Al Baker said.

Additionally, Doha’s former airport, Doha International, will be used by airlines from neighboring states to fly in spectators staying in hotels around the Gulf. Flydubai, Oman Air, Saudia and Kuwait Airways are among the carriers that will be given space at the old airport, which has been completely refurbished.

Meanwhile, the controversial capacity caps at London Heathrow, which limit the number of departing and arriving passengers to 200,000 a day for several weeks over the peak summer period, mean that Qatar Airways is having to reduce capacity on its flights to the airport by 30-40%.

Like Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways was not happy with being given extremely short notice to cut the number of passengers using the London hub, Al Baker said. To mitigate the effect of the capacity cap, the airline is studying whether to reduce capacity on several flights or completely cut one service. But the measure “is having a huge financial impact on airlines,” the CEO said.

One of the main factors causing delays at Heathrow is a shortage of ground-handling staff and the airline is now looking at setting up its own ground-handling company in the UK to get around the problem, he added.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.