African airlines are under-capitalised due to a lack of investment by their own governments, Qatar Airlines Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in Durban.
Speaking at the launch of Qatar’s new service between Doha and Durban in December, Al Baker said the African market is under-served and has the largest growth potential of all markets.
He accused airlines currently operating in Africa of “taking African people to the cleaners”.
Al Baker said airlines could play an important role in the development of a country and even in Qatar, which he described as the richest country in the world, the national carrier makes a material contribution to GDP.
He said African governments should subsidize their airlines “until they can stand on their own feet”. Airlines are very capital intensive and have to be assisted until they can operate independently, he said.
Al Baker’s comments come as South African Airways (SAA) requested assistance of R5 billion from the state. This comes on top of various previous interventions by government and while SAA has failed to submit its annual financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2015, due to apparent going concern issues.
Qatar, along with its Gulf peers Etihad and Emirates have been defending themselves against claims by American airlines Delta, United Continental and American Airlines of distorting the market by unfair competition in the light of subsidies totalling more than $42 billion since 2004, USA Today reported earlier.
The American airlines have requested the US government to review agreements with the Gulf airlines in terms of its Open Skies policies.
Al Baker said Qatar is one of the fastest growing airlines globally with a fleet of 173 aircraft, flying to 153 destinations on six continents. It has been growing at 35% year-on-year and has 300 aircraft on order with Airbus, he said.
Qatar will be flying between Durban and Doha via Johannesburg four times per week. This is an expansion of its current daily flights to Cape Town and twice-daily flights to Johannesburg, bringing the total number flights from its hub, Hamad International Airport in Doha to South Africa to 21.
Al Baker said: “Qatar is one of South Africa’s largest trading partners in the Middle East and we are proud to strengthen this business relationship with the launch of our new route connecting Durban directly to Doha. With its excellent aviation infrastructure and the development of the Dube TradePort, we expect the number of business and employment opportunities in Durban to increase.”
The Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner with on-board Wifi and GSM Service will service the route.
At the same event KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu welcomed the first Qatar flight as a “momentous” event. He said it brings the dream of developing King Shaka International Airport and the Dube TradePort into an aerotropolis closer as it grows KZN’s international connectivity.
Mchunu said: “In order to position this city internationally we have taken a route to position Durban as the events capital of Africa, this approach brought us a tremendous amount of international attention and support from the business community, delegates, tourists and fans from around the world.”
Mchunu said the province would send a business delegation to Qatar soon.