Qatar Airways to start San Francisco flights, closes in on Italy deal

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker speaks at a press conference during the Arabian Travel Market Exhibition in Dubai on April 24, 2017. (AP)

Qatar Airways plans to start direct flights to San Francisco early next year as part of efforts to expand its routes into the United States.

Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker, speaking at a news conference in Dubai on Monday, also announced 11 other new destinations to start in 2018.

Qatar Airways’ US expansion contrasts with rival Emirates, which said this month it would cut flights on five US destinations from May due to a “significant deterioration” in bookings. This followed US President Donald Trump’s attempts to restrict travel from some Muslim countries, which has hit demand from the Middle East.

“We didn’t have massive declines like other carriers,” al-Baker said. “We will continue our expansion.”

The airline has seen “some decline” in passenger demand on US routes, but he said this was manageable.

Qatar Airways has delayed plans to start flights to Las Vegas until the second quarter 2018, from the first quarter of that year, “mainly due to technical reasons,” al-Baker said without explaining further.

The airline, like Emirates and Etihad Airways, has faced more than two years of opposition in the United States from domestic airlines, led by major carriers American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines .

The three US carriers accuse their Middle East rivals of receiving billions of dollars in state aid and have lobbied the US government to investigate.

“We create jobs, we buy American, We invest in the United States and I think we outweigh whatever job creation these three American carriers are doing,” al-Baker said.

He also said Qatar Airways would sign in the next “few days” an agreement with Italy’s Meridiana. Qatar Airways has been negotiating to buy a 49 percent stake in the Italian airline for over a year.

The Doha-based airline will also make an application with the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) for an Indian airline operating license in the next “few weeks,” he said.

Qatar Airways has said it plans to operate a domestic Indian carrier with around 100 jets.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49