In another sign that the much-delayed Hamad International Airport is nearing completion, Qatar Airways’ CEO has said passenger service at the new facility will commence by the end of June.
Akbar Al Baker told Reuters today that he expects the new airport to open to travelers in the second quarter of the year, a slightly more specific reference than the “mid-year” timeline provided by Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al-Noaimi, the chairman of the HIA steering committee, last month.
Al Baker also said low-cost airlines would be the first to move to the new airport, followed by full-service carriers:
“The move will be two phases … We will move operations overnight and would require the current airport operations to be shut for about six to eight hours.”
As of last month, the airport’s premium facilities and lounges were still not complete, according to Al-Noaimi, who said they would be ready by mid-April.
This delay prompted Qatar Airways to threaten to file a $600 million lawsuit against German/Emirati contractor Lindner Depa Interiors (which later counter-sued), and is thought to be one reason why officials want to start passengers operations with budget airlines.
A similar plan to launch with only budget carriers was in place prior to the airport’s aborted takeoff last year.
The new $15.5-billion airport was supposed to be completed in 2009, but was inundated with delays that pushed the opening date back to Dec. 12, 2012. That deadline was also missed.
Along with the incomplete lounges, efforts to open HIA have been stifled by failed safety inspections that forced officials to scrap the airport’s opening just hours before the first plane was set to land at HIA on April 1, 2013.
On the cargo side, a Qatar Airways plane landed at HIA in early December to mark the airport’s first shipment. However, regular cargo flights were not scheduled to start until this month.
On Monday, the airline announced an agreement with Cathay Pacific that will see the Hong Kong carrier launch a daily flight to Qatar on March 30. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways will reduce the frequency of its Doha-Hong Kong flights from twice-daily to one flight per day.
Under the agreement, top-tier members of Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club and Qatar Airways’ Privilege Club can access reciprocal perks – such as lounge access, baggage allowances and priority boarding – when traveling on either airlines’ flights between Doha and Hong Kong.
Similar agreements with other airlines are in the works.
Al Baker also said Monday that Qatar Airways was in talks with fellow oneworld alliance member British Airways about entering in a codesharing agreement, under which the airlines would jointly operate certain routes, according to Reuters.
The Gulf airline is also open to cost-sharing partnerships with other oneworld members, the report added.