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Resilient Qatar Airways

by David Hopwood

Qatar Airways has commenced its service to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The Gulf carrier will operate the route three times a week as an extension of its flights from Doha to Johannesburg using the A350-900. Flights are scheduled on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The sector is not a ‘fifth-freedom’ operation and as such Qatar doesn’t carry passengers boarding in Johannesburg to Gaborone or vice versa.

The CEO Akbar Al Baker said,

“We are excited to be launching three-weekly flights to Gaborone, another highly sought-after destination in Africa. Qatar Airways is committed to growing our presence in Africa and adding to the 22 destinations in 15 countries we already offer. Our new service to the enchanting city of Gaborone will enable us to provide a seamless journey to and from Botswana, for passengers connecting from our extensive network of more than 160 destinations worldwide.”

© wikimedia

Previously, Botswana was served exclusively by African airlines; SA Airlink & SA Express, Ethiopian, and of course Air Botswana. Qatar serves numerous other African destinations including Casablanca and Tunis in the north, Maputo and Cape Town in the south, Kigali and Nairobi in central Africa and a single destination in the west; Lagos in Nigeria.

Botswana is a large, land-locked country whose economy is based on two main pillars; diamonds and tourism. The tourist locations are in the north of the country, including the game parks on the Zambezi and the Okavango Delta. The tourism is based on the ‘high-end/low-volume’ principle.

In itself, this new destination is not hugely significant. It is, however, part of a vigorous expansion strategy bought about by the aviation blockade on Qatar by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in June 2017. Qatar is not permitted to fly in the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and other countries in the region, that is not within 12 nautical miles of the coast. (See map) Those countries carriers no longer fly to Doha.

Image; SF, produced using GCmaps

There are three ramifications to this; Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were Qatar’s most popular destinations and that revenue is lost. Secondly, given the peculiar dimensions of the surrounding airspace-a historical anomaly- the airline is forced to funnel all its flights through a relative narrow corridor to the east and if heading towards Europe, over Iran. This increases the duration of many flights and hence the cost to the airline. Thirdly, the blockade left Qatar with considerable excess capacity available for use to destinations that otherwise might not have been considered.

It seems that Qatar Airways has concluded that for the time being it can’t compete with Emirates or Etihad and has revised its strategy towards developing its route network with numerous smaller destinations, like Gaborone, currently underserved.

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