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[Herald Interview] Qatar Airways to introduce bigger B777 on Korean route

Carrier hopes to lure more clients doing business in Middle East and Africa

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Published : 2014-08-04 21:15
Updated : 2014-08-04 21:15

Qatar Airways, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, is making inroads into the South Korean market, where the carrier plans to introduce a new, bigger Boeing 777 jumbo jet to lure more business and luxury travelers.

The flag carrier of Qatar will be introducing the B777-300 aircraft into the Incheon-Doha route starting from September, increasing seating capacity to 293 passengers for the economy-class from the current 217.

“Compared to other airlines that have 385 economy-class seats on the plane, we have one less seat per row allowing more space to stretch, rest and sleep,” Ravi Goonetilleke, the Korean country manager, said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

“We will continue to offer Korean passengers our five-star service.”
Ravi Goonetilleke, the Korean chief of Qatar Airways, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in central Seoul. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Qatar Airways, which started its Korean route in 2003, launched its first direct flight connecting Incheon and Doha, its hub city, in 2010. Currently, the carrier operates seven flights per week on the route.

Like other Gulf carriers such as Emirates and Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways has been seeking to open up more flights on the Korean route as part of its efforts to expand its presence in the all-import Asian market.

“We are always looking for opportunities. If there’s a good chance, we will try to maximize it,” he said, stressing that the airline seeks expansion not just in Korea but globally.

“Considering that we are well on our way to increasing the number of destinations to 170 from the current 140 in the next three years, I think there is room for us to further increase passenger capacity in Korea,” he said.

The airline is pinning especially high hopes on the growing number of business travelers as recently there are many Korean companies capitalizing on the booming economy of the Middle East and Africa.

In Korea, foreign carriers usually struggle to secure corporate clients as local executives prefer to use flag carriers ― Korean Air and Asiana Airlines ― due to language and service issues as well as their partnership with the Korean airlines.

But Qatar Airways has already attracted big Korean names as clients, according to Goonetilleke, thanks to its competitive pricing and more convenient flight schedules with short connection times.

“Korean carriers don’t have the reach we have,” he said. “For example, our frequency to Saudi Arabia, which is a key market for Korean construction companies, has risen to 79 flights a week.”

His confidence toward future competition also comes from some 700 Korean flight attendants working at the company ― the second largest nationality among its cabin crew. In a recent recruitment event held in Seoul, more than 3,000 applicants gathered to join the company, he added.

“We provide a variety of benefits including an above-industry average annual income, accommodation, utilities, and tax-free salaries,” he said of the key factors attracting Korean talent, adding that passenger reviews are also positive about them traveling all routes.

The Korean chief pledged to introduce more localized services such as Korean in-flight meals to win over more Korean customers. The company also plans to promote the new Hamad International Airport, which opened in May.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)

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