October 09, 2012
Qatar Airways’ pending membership with Oneworld gives the global alliance access to emerging markets, particularly in Africa, and a controlling presence at a new airport in Doha, which Oneworld deems one of the primary gateways in the Middle East.
Speaking at the formal announcement of Qatar’s designation in New York, Oneworld’s CEO Bruce Ashby on Oct. 8 said Qatar will increase the alliance’s market share in the Middle East to 10% from 4%. International Airlines Group (IAG) CEO Willie Walsh added that the Persian Gulf cannot support three large hubs so close to each other, but the “smart money” is on Doha and Emirates Airline’s Dubai base winning out over Etihad Airways’ Abu Dhabi operation.
The Qatari government’s $15 billion investment in a new airport at Doha augurs well for Qatar’s future growth and made the decision to admit the airline to Oneworld easier, Walsh added.
With Oneworld membership, which should be completed in 12-18 months, Qatar will become the first major Persian Gulf carrier to join a global alliance. “We have joined an alliance very fast,” Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker said during the New York event. “We are only 15 years old, so this was a fast step and a good step,” Al Baker continued, adding, “It is a sign that the world is taking the Gulf carriers seriously.”
The announcement was expected, and while Al Baker was denying such a move as recently as two weeks ago, the CEO now admits a previously announced service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport scheduled to begin in the first quarter next year was planned in anticipation of joining Oneworld and connecting with the alliance’s anchor member American Airlines.
Qatar also will be opening new markets in the U.S. next year in consultation with its Oneworld partners, although Al Baker declined to identify possible candidates. Qatar also says Oneworld’s presence in Doha, currently limited to British Airways and Royal Jordanian, will “be explored.”
During the New York event, IAG’s Walsh also said Oneworld expects to add its first carrier from South Asia with the admission of SriLankan Airlines “soon.”