Qatar Airways boss hints at Belfast-Doha link

Qatar Airways is said to be exploring a route between Belfast and Doha
Qatar Airways is said to be exploring a route between Belfast and Doha Qatar Airways is said to be exploring a route between Belfast and Doha

QATAR Airways says it wants to launch a new direct service between Doha and Belfast.

The carrier's chief executive Akbar Al Baker confirmed the move during a visit to Cardiff, from where Qatar Airways is set to increase its frequency from five days a week to a daily service from next month.

Qatar Airways, which bills itself as ‘the world’s five-star airline’, insists it wants to keep expanding in the UK, where it already flies to four destinations, and later this month will add London Gatwick as a fifth.

And Mr Baker said he "wants to launch services from Belfast as our next UK departure point".

Bosses at Belfast International Airport are understood to have been in contact with the airline in recent days and are seeking talks with Mr Baker either in the UK on his next visit, or in Doha.

Given that Qatar - which is due to host the 2022 World Cup - is about to start flying to Malaga, Luxembourg, Valletta, Antalya and Tallinn, a service to Belfast certainly seems feasible, according to aviation industry watchers.

Belfast International, where passenger numbers will smash the six million barrier this year, is constantly talking with airlines about bringing new routes to Aldergrove.

But it previously missed out on securing a service to the lucrative Gulf region when Emirates opted to expand its operations from Dublin instead.

In the last decade Qatar has been a significantly important market for UK exports, reflecting the strong trading relations between the two countries.

Indeed in the year to last October, UK exports to Qatar increased by 21.9 per cent compared to the same period in the previous year.

There are around 4,500 UK VAT-registered businesses (a number in Northern Ireland) exporting goods to Qatar worth around £1.8 billion and 484 UK VAT-registered businesses importing goods from Qatar worth close to £2 billion.

Last month Qatari consulting firm Excelledia, headquartered in Doha, confirmed it is opening an office in Belfast, creating 22 jobs.

Doha is also one of 10 new international office locations opened in the last year by Invest NI, which says it is hopeful of attracting other investors from the region in the future.

Clearly it would see a direct air link as a vital aid in increasing trade linkages with the Gulf and wider Asian markets.

Qatar Airways, the state-owned flag carrier of the country, operates a hub-and-spoke network, linking more than 150 international destinations across Africa, Central Asia, Europe, the Far East, South Asia, Middle East, North America, South America and Oceania from its base at Hamad International Airport, using a fleet of more than 180 aircraft.