Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker said the carrier will launch its domestic flights in Saudi Arabia this year.
“Al-Maha Airways, which belongs to Qatar Airways, will start its operations between the third and fourth quarter of this year,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the launch of Qatar Airways’ new services to Sharjah and Dubai.
He, however, did not reveal more details about the project.
Qatar was awarded a license to operate domestic flights in Saudi Arabia in December 2012 as part of new reforms in the aviation and tourism sector.
Qatar Airways started its three-times daily services to Sharjah International Airport and double-daily flights to Dubai World Central (DWC) Al-Maktoum International Airport on Saturday.
Together with existing flights to Dubai International and Abu Dhabi International Airport, its UAE schedule rises to 26 flights a day.
Both new routes are operated on A320 aircraft.
Currently, the airline operates to 137 destinations.
The new flight to Sharjah, is mainly to serve people who live in the eastern part of the UAE. This will help grow commercial links with the emirate, as well as help funnel passengers onto its global network via Doha, he added.
When asked about the airline’s future plans in India, he said the carrier is keen to get more traffic rights in the country.
“India is a huge country and an economic giant. Unfortunately, the government of India is not giving free access to the aviation market,” he said.
“I hope that the new government in India, after elections due by May, whoever it may be, will redesign the aviation rules in India,” said the CEO.
“Look at the interests of Indian people, not the interests of politicians. Our expansion into India will depend on whether the government will further open the nation’s skies,” said Al-Baker.
“Aviation is a very important sector which provides jobs and helps the tourism sector to flourish,” said the CEO.
“I hope the politicians in India work for the progress of the country, not for their personal interests. They should open the aviation market to international access which will also boost the national economy,” he said.
“We are very keen to expand our footprint in India,” he added.
He said the current Doha airport is designed for 9.5 million passengers per annum, but the figures reached 25 million passengers in 2013.
“Our new Hamad International Airport, due to open imminently in Doha, will change the regional aviation landscape,” said the CEO.
Answering a question, he said Qatar Airways has no plans to start budget airlines
“We focus on full-service carrier. If we get erosion from our existing clients, then we will think about it,” he said.
While asked about the problems related to traffic rights in western European countries, he said: “I know some airlines are trying to impose restrictions on Gulf carriers in the US. But the US believes in free trade. They are understanding and progressive, so we don’t think something of that sort will happen.”
He added: “If western European countries bring some restrictions, they will also lose a lot of business. They will lose a lot of visitors from the Gulf.”
He said it was unlikely that western European airlines would dictate government policies.
“If Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad etc cancel their orders for the aircraft… don’t you think it will adversely affect their economy?… If the Emirates airline alone cancels the A380 orders… the factory will have to close down immediately. So I don’t think that the government will listen to the interests of some airlines,” said Al-Baker.
Sharjah Airport Authority Chairman Ali Salim Al-Midfa, meanwhile, said work on a new runway will start soon.
“Moreover, we are going to increase the immigration counters and the number of staff for more efficient service,” he said.