Qatar Airways CEO Says Covid Vaccines Likely Required for Travel

A Qatar Airways plane takes off from Hamad International Airport in Doha on July 20, 2017.

STRINGER | AFP | fake images

The CEO of a Middle East flagship airline has said that the requirement for Covid-19 vaccines will likely be a trend in air travel as the industry tries to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the short term, yes, I think the vaccine passport will be helpful in giving confidence to both governments and passengers in our industry to start traveling again,” Qatar Airways Group CEO said Tuesday, Akbar Al Baker, to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

When asked if vaccines will become a “necessity” for flying, Al Baker said: “I think this will be the trend initially, because the world needs to open up, people need to have confidence in air travel.”

“I think this will be a trend that will occur until such time as people are certain that there is an adequate cure, or an adequate treatment for this very serious pandemic that we face today,” he added.

The idea of ​​vaccination passports has been raised by many governments and industries, and advocates say it would make travel safer. Critics, however, argue that it could worsen inequality and access for people from countries that are further behind in their vaccination campaigns.

When asked who should run the vaccination passport process, the Executive Director said: “In my opinion, it should be run by IATA (the International Air Transport Association) … I have full confidence that IATA will take care of it. of the problems that arise. The industry. “

The conversation with Al Baker took place in conjunction with the launch of the first Qatar Airways flight fully vaccinated against Covid-19, in an A350-1000.

The “flight to nowhere” will remain within Qatari airspace and will feature the company’s new hygiene and safety features, including “zero-touch” in-flight entertainment technology. It will only carry passengers and crew who have been vaccinated against the virus that turned the world economy upside down and bankrupted so many airlines last year.

The airline has no plans yet to require all passengers to be vaccinated.

Oil prices rebound

After the Gulf states were hit by falling oil prices in the spring of 2020, crude oil has risen steadily due to a combination of supply and demand dynamics, as well as prolonged production cuts in the US. OPEC.

But Al Baker refuted the idea that his airline relies on the oil revenues that sustain the Gulf economies.

“We are a commercial entity, we rely on the profitability of our passengers, of the cargo we carry, we do not depend on oil prices,” he said. “The only thing that we trust (is) to have oil prices at a reasonable level, so that it can contribute to our reduction of operating costs.”

International benchmark Brent crude was trading at around $ 63 a barrel on Tuesday morning London time, up 22% so far this year, a level the Qatar Airways CEO says is sustainable for the economy. company.

“The price of oil is around 60-65 dollars a barrel, I think it is reasonable that we return to a sustained profitability,” he said.

Air travel rebound?

Qatar Airways, like so many others, was hit hard when air travel stalled during the first months of the pandemic.

Last year it received a $ 2 billion ransom from its owner, the gas-rich Qatari state. The flagship aircraft carrier of the small Gulf monarchy posted a record loss of $ 1.9 billion for the 2019-2020 financial year, due both to the virus crisis and the then blockade of a group of Arab Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, which ended in January.

Al Baker said he is confident his airline will recover; It is currently rebuilding its network to operate more than 1,200 weekly flights to more than 140 destinations in summer. Still, IATA does not expect air travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.


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