Qatar can feel proud of the fact that it’s state-owned airline is once again the world’s top-ranked carrier.
Qatar Airways reclaimed the No. 1 spot in this year’s Skytrax awards, a coveted list of the leading 100 airlines announced on the second day of the Paris Air Show. Qatar unseated Emirates, which slipped to fourth. The rankings are based on an annual passenger survey.
Second and third position went to Singapore Airlines and ANA All Nippon Airways.
In addition to being voted Best Airline by travellers from around the world, Qatar’s national carrier also won a raft of other major awards at the ceremony, including Best Airline in the Middle East, World’s Best Business Class and World’s Best First Class Airline Lounge. Qatar Airways' home and hub, Hamad International Airport, was this year also rated five-star by Skytrax, one of only five in the world to be given this recognition.
Akbar al Baker, Qatar Airways’s chief executive officer, used the platform to make an impromptu speech in which he condemned the blockade of Qatar, which he had previously likened to the Soviet siege of West Berlin after World War II.
"At these difficult times of illegal bans on flights out of my country by big bullies, this is an award not to me, not to my airline, but to my country," Al Baker said after being handed the microphone at the ceremony’s climax.
Tensions between Qatar, one of the world’s richest countries and the biggest producer of liquefied natural gas, and its neighbours are escalating after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic relations and closed transport routes three weeks ago.
Qatar Airways has closed 52 routes, with remaining services forced into diversions ranging from five minutes to two hours to avoid closed airspace.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG managed to improve its ranking by three slots to the seventh position, making it the only European carrier in the Top 10 and the only airline not from Asia or the Persian Gulf.
At the same time it failed to secure a five-star ranking, something it has been targeting since 2015, though CEO Carsten Spohr pledged to get there soon. Only nine airline hold the status, seven from Asia and two from the Middle East.
There are no US companies featured in the Top 20 of the survey’s rankings, which cover more than 325 airlines and are a powerful marketing tool to attract more high-spending business or leisure travelers.
Turkish Airlines tumbled out of the Top 10 list, having been placed 7th last year.
Skytrax also hands out awards for various sub-categories, which include best cabin staff, best in-flight entertainment or best low-cost airline.
Gulf rift will not halt Qatar Airways’ fleet and route growth plans
A boycott by four Arab nations will not halt Qatar Airways’ growth or plans to accept delivery of new aircraft, it said on Monday, adding it was seeing demand return after an initial downturn.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5 in the worst diplomatic crisis in the region in years.
The crisis has seen those countries close their airspace to Qatar Airways, forcing it to fly longer routes and thereby adding costs.
There has been monetary impact, Chief Executive Akbar al Baker said in an interview onboard one of Qatar Airways’ 777 jets at the Paris Airshow on Monday.
We have had a lot of cancellations, especially to the four countries that did this illegal blockade, but we have found new markets and this is our growth strategy, he said, adding passengers were returning to the carrier after initially being deterred when the boycott started.
He said Qatar was not the only country affected by the crisis.
All these countries have families on either side of the borders, they have relatives, children, investments. Eventually people will realise that the move they have done against my country was ill-thought out and ill-advised and that life has to come back to normal, he said.
Qatar is talking with the United Nations’ aviation agency, ICAO, about the airspace rights’ dispute, and Al Baker said he was disappointed with their actions thus far.
“I don’t think they have moved enough, I don’t think they have taken this matter very seriously,” he said.
He said Qatar Airways had plenty of growth opportunities elsewhere, citing new routes opening this month to Dublin, Skopje and Sarajevo as examples.
We are not going to defer any of our aircraft, We are continuing our aircraft deliveries at the same pace as we are contractually obligated to do, he said, adding Qatar was in talks to add more freighter capacity.
Al Baker said Qatar Airways still wanted to buy a stake in Italian carrier Meridiana, though there were a few things to iron out.
However, Qatar is not interested in struggling carrier Alitalia, which is in the process of seeking a buyer.
We are not interested to look at the books because I know how it has been left behind by one of the airlines that was too keen to relaunch it and failed,he said.
Separately, Qatar plans to set up a full service Indian carrier to fly domestic routes with around 100 narrowbody planes after the country opened up the airline industry to foreign investors.
Al Baker said an application would be made for an operating licence soon, without giving a more precise timeframe.