Qatar Airways is to fit completely flat beds into business class cabins, scrap first class lounges on its aircraft, and expand its Premium Terminal in Doha – before knocking it down in 2011.
New fully-flat business class seats will replace the current ones, which recline to a 160-degree angle. The first revamped cabin is being fitted to a new Boeing 777, due for delivery in June.
The airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said it would take a year before the airline refits the Airbus A330s and A340s that are used on UK routes.
Al Baker said the new seats would have “a lot of amenities” and be as wide as the airline’s current first class seat. He said lie-flat seats would be introduced on routes of more than five hours and pledged to keep first class on key routes.
However, he revealed that the airline will remove the first class lounge areas fitted on the A340s which ply the London Heathrow route. The bar area was introduced only in September 2006, but will be taken out in the next six months. Al Baker said the facility had had little passenger use. The space will be filled with the business class cabin, which will be moved forward, allowing the fitting of 30 to 40 extra economy seats.
Work on extending Doha’s US$200 million Premium Terminal, which opened only 18 months ago, will start imminently. The building, divided into business and first class areas, is being extended on the business class side. Construction will take six months, but the entire building will be torn down when the New Doha airport opens in three years.
Al Baker defended the decision to expand so soon before demolition. He said the facility would bring additional revenue of US$3 billion and claimed: “The real estate value is so high that it will compensate for knocking it down.” The work was prompted by the delay to the New Doha airport, which was due to have a phased opening next year, but will now open in one go in 2011.
Qatar Airways is also seeking a bigger UK presence. Another gateway, possibly Birmingham, is being considered. Al Baker said: “We will have more UK gateways. Depending on aircraft delivery, maybe next year.”
The airline introduced a fourth daily frequency from Heathrow last month, after buying more slots from an undisclosed carrier, but Al Baker indicated this was the end of his airline’s Heathrow expansion.
Al Baker said the Airbus A380 double-decker, which Qatar Airways will get in 2012, would solve the problem of capacity at Heathrow. He said: “Our A380s have not been bought for long-haul, they are for slot-restricted airports.”
He revealed that Qatar Airways was also considering the launch of all-business class flights. He said: “We may launch it with narrow-bodied aircraft, it will be a flat-bed business class,” adding that possible destinations had yet to be decided.
Report by Gary Noakes