Rhys and I spent Tuesday at the huge Farnborough Airshow, although we spent less than five minutes together as we have very different interests at such events!
If you had to choose a day when you would be outside for much of the time – and airfields don’t have a lot of shade – Tuesday would clearly not have been it. Full credit to the huge number of men who spent the entire day standing outside in a full suit (jacket on, tie on, shirt buttons done up, no hat).
The Farnborough Airshow isn’t prime HfP territory – it is really an event for the hard core aviation industry, for the sort of people who want to learn about the latest types of bolts for joining fuselage pieces together. This was my first visit in 20+ years – my only previous trip was in the year where the A380 made its first ever UK appearance.
The only passenger airline which takes Farnborough seriously is Qatar Airways. It has the right idea. It has a huge ‘chalet’ (which is what the corporate areas are called) with free flowing food and drink, as well as a terrace overlooking the runway for the daily flying display. It’s just like being in a hospitality tent at Wimbledon, except this time you get to look at planes instead of tennis. I don’t understand why other airlines don’t do the same.
Qatar Airways also brings along aircraft to see – this year we had a Qsuite-equipped Boeing 777, a Boeing 787-9 with the new business class seat (which I hadn’t seen before in the flesh, but which Rhys reviewed here) and a Qatar Executive Gulfstream jet. I will return to that.
Importantly, Qatar Airways has a (literal) ‘open door’ policy for its aircraft. You don’t need an appointment, you don’t need to be chaperoned. You can visit them freely and take a look inside, including areas like crew rest which are normally off limits to passengers:
I always find it quite spooky to walk around an empty aircraft, as per the photo below. Few people ever experience this feeling – if you went for a stroll around a deserted town centre during the covid lockdowns, it was a similar sensation.
A quick chat with the Qatar Airways CEO
I had a bit of time with the Qatar Airways CEO, H.E. Mr Akbar Al Baker, or ‘Chief’ as he is universally known by the staff, at a round-table chat with aviation writers.
From a HfP point of view, the key thing to mention is his enthusiasm for ‘Qsuite Mark 2’. This will debut on the Boeing 777X feet, for which Qatar Airways is the joint launch customer along with Emirates. (BA also has a large order for these aircraft which is also delayed.) The snag is that, due to production delays at Boeing, the first deliveries have now been pushed back to 2025 although Akbar believes that this could come forward into 2024.
Where there is no enthusiasm is for Premium Economy. Whilst Tim Clarke, CEO of Emirates, has admitted that he made a mistake by not introducing it earlier – it is only rolling out this year – Qatar Airways believes there is no benefit. As they see it, their existing food and drink and IFE offering in Economy is as good as Premium Economy on other carriers. On that basis there is little they could offer in Premium Economy apart from a small amount of extra space.
If you are an A380 fan, it is bad news. You can fly the A380 today – seven of the eight A380 aircraft owned by Qatar Airways are now back in the air, as the aircraft struggles with its partially grounded A350 fleet and delays to its Boeing 787 orders. A380 Number 8 is being cannibalised for spare parts for the other seven.
Akbar, however, still hates the A380 aircraft with a passion. He describes the original order as ‘his biggest mistake’, was happy to ground them and is looking forward to the day when he can ground them again – this time for good.
(As you can possibly tell by now, doing a press event with Akbar is not like doing a press event with Sean Doyle, CEO of British Airways, or even Shai Weiss from Virgin Atlantic!)
It’s best if I don’t tell you what Akbar thinks about the capacity cuts at Heathrow. I’m also not going to go into the discussion about the legal issues with Airbus over the A350 ‘peeling paint’ issue. This has led to much of the Qatar Airways A350 fleet being grounded amidst claim and counter-claim over whether the damage is structural or cosmetic.
Qatar Airways is looking at setting up its own ground handling business at Heathrow. Emirates already does this – and of course BA has its own operation – and it would mean that the airline can guarantee that its own aircraft are serviced properly. There is logic here – with only six flights per day, it would need a relatively small workforce and those people could be paid above the market rate in order to guarantee a full complement at all times. The extra cost would be nominal in the context of ensuring a smooth running operation.
We finished by discussing the World Cup. One piece of news that had slipped by me is that the old Doha International Airport is being reopened for passenger use during the tournament, albeit only for charter flights and regional ‘shuttle’ flights from airlines such as Flydubai. Qatar Airways itself has cut or reduced services to 30 destinations in order to release aircraft to carry fans from countries where teams are competing. The entire airline timetable has been changed to remove the current ‘banks’ of flights, spreading capacity throughout the day and making it easier for additional special World Cup services to get a landing slot and a gate.
A quick look at Qatar Executive
Qatar Airways is one of the very few commercial airlines globally to operate a private jet division – Qatar Executive. It runs a varied fleet of 13-seater aircraft, available for hire by corporates, private individuals or Governments.
It had a Gulfstream G650ER on display at Farnborough. Here are a couple of interior shots I took.
This is how the seating looks in seat mode:
…. and this is how it looks in bed mode:
I’m not suggesting that you may be in the market for such a service, but it was fun to have a look around. Qatar Executive advertises ’empty leg’ flights on its website but annoyingly there are no prices. If you want to hire a 13-seat private jet to fly between Nice and Copenhagen on 29th July, however, there is a deal to be done …..