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Eighty years since first flight touched down in Sharjah – BA

L-R Sir Martin Broughton, Ms Laila Bin Harib and Paolo De Renzis

British carrier celebrates 80 years in Middle East

October 10, 2012 3:22 by

As British Airways celebrates 80 years in the Middle East, its chairman expresses excitement over Qatar Airways joining the alliance and how undramatic the ending of the Qantas partnership is.

British Airways’ first flight to the Middle East touched down in Sharjah in 1932. Since then, both the London-based carrier and the global aviation playground has naturally seen its fair share of developments. Under the banner of Imperial Airways, the Handley Page HP42 took off from Croydon, south of London and headed for Sharjah. The plane carried less than 20 passengers and the trip lasted for approximately 6 days including various stopovers.

“Today that’s just a six hour flight but I must say, it has lost some of its romance and adventure,” chuckled Jamie Cassidy, AGM of British Airways in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. ‘From Lebanon all the way to New Zealand is my area’ was how he put it.

He was joined on the panel by Sir Martin Faulkner Broughton, the current Chairman of British Airways, Paolo De Renzis, BA commercial manager, Paul Jarvis Director of the BA Museum and lastly, Ms. Laila Ali Bin Hareb, Executive Director of Strategy and International Affairs at General Civil Aviation Authority.

It was recently announced that Qatar Airways has become the Gulf’s first major carrier to join the global Oneworld Alliance. The CEO of Oneworld described the Doha-based carrier as being ‘the best fit in terms of strategy and philosophy’. Emirates Airlines, the Dubai state backed carrier, has yet to take the plunge but a recent ten year partnership has been signed with Qantas.

British Airways has, in the past, been rather critical of Gulf carriers among other regional airlines for being constantly propped up and supported by government funding. The chairman said that if it were not state-backed, Air India would have ‘no right to exist’. Still, with the aviation sector moving at a fast pace and airlines worry about being left behind, British Airways expresses happiness over the alliance with Qatar Airways as it grants them access to a larger piece of the pie in the sky.

Qatar Airways joining the Alliance. How will that play out in the aviation landscape?

Almost all major scheduled airlines are part of a global alliance and Qatar Airways, being the first one from the Gulf to join ours is very exciting for us. The aviation sector, especially in the Middle East, can still only be described with one word; explosive. Mergers and acquisitions are so limited and hard to come by, especially in this region, what with national sensitivities. A key part of our growth is partnerships, acquisitions and letting airlines go bust when they should.

The Middle East is obviously a historic and important region for us and now it allows us to extend our reach to other cities, add new routes and broaden our network.

Will the partnership include revenue sharing?

Revenue sharing is a strange subject. It is applicable in some areas and routes where in others it’s really not. Looking back at our partnership with Qantas, we were both losing money for quite some time so ending that partnership isn’t really affecting us at the time being. Financially, it worked sort of well. I wouldn’t say that at this stage we are looking for that kind of partnership.

You’ve been dubbed as a mentor to Qatar Airways – taking it under your wings so to speak.

Again, mentor is a strange word. Basically every new member joining the alliance needs an existing member to sponsor them so we use that word instead. It also includes the obligation to provide assistance in mechanical processes and other behind the scene sort of things. Mostly boring stuff.

Can British Airways learn anything from Qatar?

Why not? I think we could have a mutual exchange. There are things BA could learn from Qatar Air and I am sure there are things they can learn from us too.

Possible partnerships/expansions with other carriers or countries?

The world of aviation is strange, in terms of what you are and aren’t allowed to do with partnerships, mergers and acquisitions. British Airways is delighted with the Qatar Airways alliance and as we said, the Middle East is such an important market for us that we would love to continue expanding within it. There are so many restrictions when it comes to airline acquisitions which is why alliances and code sharing exist.

China and India are two major countries where we obviously would love to expand further and make partnerships as well. We see China as a big opportunity for new routes and while ensuring that our current routes in India remain profitable. If the Kingfisher situation was “sorted out” then we might see a future partnering but I believe that ‘minority interests’ need to eventually be transformed to ‘majority interests’ and until that happens, I am reluctant at the thought of making a partnership there.

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