Qatar Airways is planning to launch new flights to several American cities in the coming year, despite ongoing efforts by US carriers to limit access to their home market over what they call unfair business practices.
In an announcement today, the national carrier said it would add new daily flights from Doha to three additional cities, bringing the total number of US routes to 10.
Flights to Los Angeles will commence on Jan. 1, 2016 using a Boeing 777; service to Boston will start March 16, 2016 using the carrier’s new Airbus A350 XWB planes; and the first Qatar Airways flight to Atlanta will be July 1, 2016 on a Boeing 777.
Additionally, the state-owned carrier said it is adding a second daily flight to New York City using an Airbus A350 XWB.
The additional flight options are likely welcome news to Qatar residents traveling to the US. But the expansion appears to be aimed more at attracting the transit passenger market. In a statement, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said:
“As Qatar Airways continues its global expansion, we are delighted to be offering even more gateways in the United States, connecting passengers from destinations across the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Southeast Asia.”
Falling out with US carriers
Over the past few years, the positioning of Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi as hubs for transiting passengers flying beyond those cities has drawn the ire of legacy carriers in Europe and North America, many of whom have seen their market share eroded at the hands of the big Gulf airlines.
The war of words escalated recently when American critics of Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad accused the Gulf trio of receiving government subsidies and other forms of state support, which apparently help them undercut the fares of so-called legacy carriers.
Earlier this year, American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines argued that this violates the spirit of the Open Skies Agreement that the US has signed with dozens of countries, including Qatar and the UAE. That deal allows airlines – rather than government regulators – to determine the frequency and capacity of flights.
In the case of Qatar Airways, those state subsidies are alleged to have added up to more than US$16.5 billion since 2004 and include interest-free loans that were ultimately forgiven, free land and airport fee exemptions.
For his part, Al Baker hasn’t denied that Qatar Airways received money from the government, but characterized it as injecting “equity into an airline which it owns.”
In a sign that the US carriers’ complaint could cause turbulence for the Gulf airlines, more than 260 members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter last week calling on the Obama administration to investigate the allegations.
Reuters reports the US airlines are pushing for a temporary freeze of the Gulf carriers’ American expansion plans and that the Obama administration has said it would start reviewing the issue by the end of this month.
This has reportedly led the US airlines to accuse the Gulf carriers of taking advantage of the waiting period. Prior to today’s Qatar Airways announcement, Emirates said it was adding new flights to Orlando, Boston and Seattle.
A Qatar Airways spokesperson declined to comment on suggestions that the carrier was announcing its new routes – one of which won’t enter operation for more than a year – to get ahead of possible restrictions on new flights.
The spokesperson said the airline plans to hold a press conference Thursday at the Arabian Travel Market convention and trade show in Dubai.