MONTREAL — The head of Qatar Airways says Canadians deserve better airline service to the Middle East made possible by an expansion of the number of landing rights granted to Doha.
“Qatar is of course interested in forging even closer ties with Canada but we are struggling with being granted additional landing rights,” Akbar Al Baker said in a speech Thursday to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.
“You Canadians deserve that. It clearly shows the need for more flights. More access! More capacity and more frequency drive greater competition and have only positive economic impact for the benefit of both countries.”
Already, the three weekly flights launched last June are running ahead of expectations and travelling 85 per cent full.
A similar number of cargo flights are offered weekly, along with return flights from the Middle East.
The outspoken chief executive said that additional flights can easily be accommodated to reduce flying time to 113 destinations through its gateway.
He said the more than 6,000 Canadians living in the Middle Eastern country, along with visitors, can bypass intense American security by increasingly flying to Doha.
“You don’t need to travel over American inefficient, complicated and security over reacting airports,” Al Baker said.
“You don’t want every Canadian to be looked at as a terrorist and go through unnecessary searches. We can offer you a better alternative passing through Doha but only on one condition after giving us more flights.”
Al Baker added that Qatar’s expansion efforts are not designed to undermine Air Canada (TSX:AC.B), which has vocally opposed any additional flights from Middle Eastern-based rivals.
The Canadian carrier has complained that the partially state-owned Middle Eastern carriers benefit from an unfair advantage.
“Air Canada should not get worried of competition. Competition makes other airlines very strong,” he said.
Montreal is Qatar’s fourth North American gateway, in addition to Houston, New York and Washington.
Return travel costs around $2,300, including taxes, for direct 13-hour flights. That’s several hundred dollars more than traditional routes through Europe but at a fraction of the time.
Qatar’s business jet service operates six Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) aircraft — three Global 5000s and three Challenger 605. It also operates a service centre for Bombardier business aircraft.
Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin later said the company is still in discussion with Qatar over a CSeries order. The potential order is for an undisclosed number of business jets.
“It’s a product that gives the performance that is needed in that region,” he told reporters after the speech.
Beaudoin added that the train maker is also interested in metro, light rail and tramway projects in Qatar.