As the ongoing Qatar Blockade now enters its fourth month, Qatar Airways has revealed plans to deploy additional single-aisle capacity into the European market from the forthcoming winter schedule as it continues to juggle its fleet inventory to its best advantage. The suspension of all air connectivity between Qatar and Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the start of June has notably impacted Qatar Airways and its activity from its Hamad International Airport hub in Doha.
Recent analysis by The Blue Swan Daily of OAG schedule data (see ‘ANALYSIS: October 2017 – Middle East capacity insights for the month ahead’) had highlighted the extent the flight cancellations have had on both the airline and hub airport with departure seats at Hamad International Airport down -14.9% in Oct-2017 versus the same period last year and Qatar Airways’ Middle East capacity down -17.0% (down -7.0% network wide).
CHART – The impact of the Qatar blockade is clear when examining departing capacity since Jun-2017 from Hamad International Airport and to a lesser extent at Qatar AirwaysSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG
The flight cancellations to the four countries has left Qatar Airways with excess fleet capacity and while this has allowed it deploy equipment in the ad hoc charter market, most notably with British Airways during its cabin crew strike action and currently with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on repatriation flights following the collapse of Monarch Airlines, it has taken up to eleven A320s out of regular scheduled service.
To reduce the impact Qatar Airways has revealed plans to deploy A320s with up to five additional daily flights into Europe starting from the final quarter of this year. Alongside a previously announced new four times weekly flight to Sarajevo from 31-Oct-2017, the airline will launch a three times weekly flight to Adana from 06-Nov-2017, a new daily link to St Petersburg from 19-Dec-2017 and add second daily flights to Helsinki, Prague and Warsaw from 14-Dec-2017. Elsewhere, new winter A320 deployment will see the type substitute for larger A321 equipment during specific periods on flights to Ahmedabad through the winter schedule.
The frequency increases, the latest in a number of such upgrades across the Qatar Airways route network, come just eight weeks after the airline launched its direct service to Prague, on its first anniversary of scheduled service to Helsinki, and more than a year since the daily service to Warsaw was upgauged to a widebody Airbus A330 service.
The new St Petersburg flight adds to the airline’s current schedule to Moscow and will be operated on a split schedule that has proved successful in many other markets. Its Prague operation is currently operated with a split schedule but will revert to a regular twice daily operation thanks to the additional capacity.
Europe is the largest market for Qatar Airways and an area where it has been growing capacity at an average annual rate of 16.3% over the past ten years. This year, already published schedules from OAG show an expected 14.8% rise, slightly down on last year but still an incredible growth when you consider the airline grew its capacity by almost a third between 2014 and 2015.
The airline’s network now encompasses 43 direct markets from Doha, increasing to 46 with Adana, Sarajevo and St Petersburg this winter and to 47 with planned flights to Cardiff in 2018. Other new non-stop destinations from Doha this year have comprised Dublin, Kiev, Nice and Skopje.
Over the last two years the airline’s main European growth focus has been on Central and Eastern regions with non-stop capacity from Doha up 44.1% in 2016 and 56.4% in 2017, based on published schedules. This compares with rates of 12.6% in 2016 and 9.8% in 2017 for Western Europe, albeit this figures will change slightly with the addition of the new flights in December.
Since the start of the decade Qatar Airways’ non-stop capacity into Central and Eastern Europe has grown almost eleven-fold with the addition of over 785,000 seats from Doha. In the same period its Western Europe capacity has almost trebled with an additional 3.2 million direct seats from Doha.
The Blue Swan Daily analysis shows that alongside adding new markets, Qatar Airways is also boosting seats into its existing markets, including its largest network points in Europe where eight of its ‘Top Ten’ European destination have seen capacity rises in 2017. The only exceptions in the ‘Top Ten’ are Paris CDG where capacity has declines for a second successive year and Manchester, albeit both declines are fairly modest and mainly related to aircraft switches to both destinations.