Business Irish

Thursday 23 November 2017

Qatar Airways faces perfect storm for launch in Ireland

Qatar Airways is a consistent winner for its Business Class offering
Qatar Airways is a consistent winner for its Business Class offering
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Even in the sometimes turbulent world of aviation, the week's events in the Gulf came as a shock to passengers - and airlines too. The diplomatic row between tiny Qatar and some neighbouring nations, most notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will have a knock-on effect for passengers worldwide, given the region's importance as a key hub of West-East air traffic.

And it's a perfect storm here too, given that Qatar Airways is due to launch its Dublin-Doha route tomorrow with a ceremony at Dublin Airport.

Qatar Airways is a consistent high performer in airline ratings, with its Business class named the best in the world in the 2016 rankings by website Skytrax, among other accolades.

And it's got to be good, taking on established names such as Emirates, Etihad Airways and Turkish Airlines who are already supplying more than 10,000 seats a week out of Ireland, and boast high profiles in sports sponsorship in this country. Qatar Airways, for its part, will be a key sponsor of the high-end Dublin Horse Show.

One respected global aviation watcher told this column that "Doha would always have had a big hill to climb" as a connecting point in the Middle East", arguing that the city "has no profile" against glitzy city states like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are also holiday destinations in their own right.

"The last thing they would want is for any aspersions to be cast on the country or Doha itself. This is really bad news for them [launching Dublin] at the worst possible time," the expert added. And connecting the world is big business, with Dubai Airport (due to be replaced in the coming years) handling 71.5 million passengers a year. Doha comes in at second, at around a Dublin-sized 30 million (15 times the country's population), with Abu Dhabi at around 24 million. Then factor in the new Istanbul Airport in Europe, opening next year, with capacity for 150 million a year, with Turkish Airlines itself offering the world's biggest route network. While Dublin to Doha is a key route for Qatar, one aviation analyst said political turmoil will be the last thing it needs, as airspace restrictions around rival nations will force it to take other, slightly longer routes.

"If you're going to Perth or Sydney you're probably looking at another hour to the journey with the route they're going to have to take. The way the computer reservation systems work with travel agents is that it's all on total journey time, so if you add an hour to the journey time, you go down the pecking order on the screen in front of the travel agent."

But Qatar Airways' new head of Ireland, Jonathan Keenan, does have a strong track record in aviation - and he knows the Irish market. The former Aer Lingus executive has held high-profile positions with British Airways subsidiary CityFlyer, operating out of London City Airport, and was most recently its commercial manager. He's seen as a top choice, and the next few months will be interesting for observers and passengers alike in the hectic Irish market.

Following on from the recent OpenJaw summit here in Dublin talking up the shift in aircraft orders and passenger numbers from West to East, this week, KLM is offering customers booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding passes and flight status updates in 10 languages on Twitter and China's WeChat.

KLM, which operates out of Dublin to its Amsterdam Schiphol hub, says you can check flight status "if you're at the airport, en route or at home. Customers can also contact KLM's social media service agents 24/7 directly via Twitter and WeChat".

WeChat is big business in China, and the number one social media platform boasts 938 million monthly active users. The Dutch airline said it has over "120,000 fans and receives over 6,000 questions a week" via WeChat, The social media service began on Tuesday and is being rolled out worldwide in the coming weeks.

While Dublin has a tendency to hog the headlines when it comes to growing its routes, Cork and co are doing quite nicely in the background.

Leeside is now connected to the financial hub of Zurich with flights each Friday and Monday until October 2, operated by Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss.

The new route will see an additional 9,000 seats from Cork Airport this year. Switzerland's ambassador to Ireland, Marie-Claude Meylan, belives "Cork's reputation as the epicentre of Ireland's tech and pharma sectors is very alluring for Swiss business visitors". Last year alone close to 100,000 visitors came from Switzerland to Ireland.

A spokesperson for Qatar Airways said: "There is currently no impact to the new Qatar Airways Dublin-Doha route.

"We very much look forward to tomorrow's launch at Dublin Airport and to welcoming our new passengers from Ireland travelling on Qatar Airways to Doha and beyond."

Sunday Indo Business

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