Slamming the Indian government for not opening new air services to Qatar for the past decade, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker called India “one of the most restricted regimes in the world” on the sidelines of a signing ceremony in Delhi marking a new one-way codeshare with IndiGo. He stressed that aviation served the government’s intent to increase economic growth and create jobs. “Every flight you operate increases jobs,” he said.
The new agreement with IndiGo will allow Qatar to place its code on the Indian discount carrier’s flight between Doha and Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, marking “the first baby step” towards strengthening cooperation between the two successful airlines and allowing Qatar to introduce additional seats into India.
On a query from AIN on the Indian government having internally expressed its disappointment with Qatar for not investing in India, a reason for withholding air services talks with Qatar, Al Baker expressed characteristic candor. “Let me be honest with you regarding investment,” he said. “Qatar has invested in India and sometimes it is not made public…India is also a large trading partner with Qatar.” However, he said, bilateral air service agreements should not depend on the existence of trade agreements. “India has so many bilaterals with nations with whom it has zero trade,” he said. “Connectivity facilitates jobs and creates demand for exports and imports.”
Qatar Airways operates 102 weekly flights to 13 destinations to India.
“Our goal is to work in partnership with Indian authorities to offer more flights, frequencies, and more routes,” said India-educated Al Baker.
IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta explained the codeshare would expand once his airline put in place Navitaire IT systems. “We know it’s a cold dark hostile world out there and we need friends in faraway places,” he quipped. “You never go to war alone.” He added that eventually, a full codeshare would take people beyond Doha to European destinations.
Al Baker said he harbored no interest in buying a stake in debt-ridden national carrier Air India, divestment of which the government hopes to initiate soon. “We are only interested in [an equity stake in] IndiGo,” he reiterated, adding he wouldn’t worry about future plans regarding the Indian airline until it resolved a conflict between the two founders on corporate governance. “We will wait,” he concluded.