India has been, and remains one of our most important destinations

Updated: Apr 1 2009, 05:29am hrs
At a time when carriers world over are cutting short their expansion plans, Qatar Airways is flying high on its agenda to expand rapidly. In a tte--tte with FEs Shaheen Mansuri, Qatar Airways regional manager-India Naveen Chawla shares his India specific plans. Chawla, who has been with the airline for the past ten years, says India is a promising market, that contributes 15% of the global capacity to the airline.

Strategically, how important is the Indian market for the airline

Currently, we operate 58 flights a week from nine cities in India. We will be adding Amritsar and Goa, currently under-served, on our network in the upcoming winter schedule for the year. India contributes quite a chunk to our revenues but we cannot divulge further on the financial details. The two new routes will boost Qatar Airways Indian capacity from nine to 11 destinations.

India has been, and remains one of our most important destinations, and is one of the worlds fastest growing economies. Increasing air links between the two countries is of paramount importance for us.

What is the rationale behind launching scheduled flights on the India-Houston route

We will have daily non-stop services between our Doha hub and Houston from March 30. Indian travellers will have a halt of three hours at Doha before flying to Houston. Also, there is more economic activity between India and Houston than any other American city owing to ties between the US and India. This has opened up new horizons for both countries. The Indian expatriate community contributes significantly to the American economy in various sectors including information technology, education, medical research, engineering and commerce etc. More than 250,000 Indians are living and working in Houston and neighbouring cities. We will deploy our new Boeing 777-200 long range aircraft on the Doha- Houston route with a seating capacity of 42 in the business class and 217 in economy.

Airlines across the globe are cutting down on their expansion plans, but your airline is doing just the opposite...

We are a network carrier. Doha serves as a transit destination for multiple regions. We operate on a hub-and spoke model. We have a huge chunk of travellers in transit for onward travel from Doha. With 70% and above load factors from India, it makes business sense for us to introduce new routes at this point of time. Apart from the India-Houston route, we will introduce Sydney, Melbourne and two new routes in the European market in the winter 2009 schedule. We have more than 200 new Airbus and Boeing aircraft worth over $40 billion on order

Like your peers from the Gulf region, you have never indulged in a fare war. Any specific reasons for this strategy

We are a niche carrier. Our in-flight product offering is the best. Even in the economy class, the 217 seats offer a pitch of up to 34 inche and 10.6 inch television screens, designed to offer premium viewing. Needless to say our business class has a 2-2-2 configuration with a pitch of 78 inches and individual television screen.

There were market rumours that you have recruited pilots from Indian carriers. Is this true

Its not only India, we have recruited over 10,000 cabin and cockpit crew from across the globe.