CEO says Qatar Air will grow despite blockade

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CANBERRA
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Qatar Airways' chief executive said Tuesday the carrier will post a loss this year because four other Arab countries have severed land, air and sea links with Qatar. Akbar al-Baker said the boycott on Qatar's flagship airline flying to neighboring Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt that since last summer has forced it to fly longer routes through Turkey and Iran has hit the company's bottom line, but not its expansion plans.

"We have increased maintenance costs because we are flying longer routes, we have more fuel consumption, so the cost to the airline is rising and I have already stated that the airline will post a loss this year due to the blockade, but this doesn't mean that we are going to shrink," al-Baker said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We will keep on expanding and growing the company."

Speaking in the Australian capital Canberra where Qatar Airways has become the first international airline to offer daily flights, al-Baker said his state-owned airline might know by April the size of the loss. He could not give a timeline on when the new routes would make up for markets lost.

"It all depends on how quick we will be able to mature the new destinations that we are operating instead of the destinations that were taken away from us during the blockade," al-Baker said.

"The world is not only these four blockading countries. The world is very large and we are always looking at new opportunities which we have been doing very successfully. We will grow everywhere, not only by ... new destinations but also grow frequencies," he added.

Qatar's four neighbors have effectively cut their air, land and sea links, isolating it, though there is no military blockade.

President Donald Trump last year denounced Qatar for allegedly funding terrorism.

But al-Baker has ruled out any reputational damage for his airline or his country from that accusation of supporting extremists that led to the severing of Qatar's links with its neighbors.

"Mr. Trump realizes that he was misinformed, misled by the blockading countries to believe that Qatar was a pariah in the region, which is not the case. We are a big supporter and an ally of the United States," he said.

Al-Baker rejected reports last month from the Unites Arab Emirates, home of the world's busiest airport in Dubai, that Qatari fighter jets had "intercepted" Emirati commercial airliners. The air forces of Qatar's boycotting neighbors have never intercepted a Qatar Airways airliner, he said. Al-Baker denied his airline was subsidized and said he had no interest in using "fifth freedom" rights to stop in other countries en route to the United States.

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