According to the CEO of Qatar Airways, Covid vaccines are likely to be needed for travel: “This will be the trend.”

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

STRINGER | AFP | Getty Images

The CEO of a flagship Middle Eastern airline said the demand for Covid-19 vaccinations is likely to be a trend in air travel as the industry tries to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the short term, yes, I think the vaccination record will be helpful in giving both governments and passengers in our industry the confidence to travel again,” said Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways Group, on Tuesday across from CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

When asked if vaccinations will become a “necessity” for flying, Al Baker said, “I think this will be the trend first because the world needs to open up to people who need to trust air travel.”

“I think this will be a trend that will continue until people are sure that there is an adequate cure or treatment for this very serious pandemic that we are facing today,” he added.

The idea of ​​vaccination cards has been circulated by many governments and industries, and proponents said it would make travel safer. However, critics argue that this could worsen inequality and access for people from countries that lag behind in their vaccination campaigns.

When asked who should conduct the vaccination passport procedure, the CEO said, “In my opinion it should be managed by IATA (International Air Transport Association) … I am fully confident that IATA is solving the problems that lie ahead the industry will get a grip. “

The conversation with Al Baker took place in connection with the start of Qatar Airways’ first flight fully vaccinated with Covid-19 on an A350-1000.

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

The airline has no plans to vaccinate all passengers yet.

Oil prices are recovering

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

However, Al Baker disproved the idea that his airline relies on the oil revenues that support the Gulf’s economy.

“We’re a commercial entity, we work on the profitability of our passengers, the cargo we carry, we don’t rely on oil prices,” he said. “The only thing we are relying on is that oil prices are at a reasonable level so that this can help reduce our operating costs.”

The international benchmark Brent crude was trading in London on Tuesday morning at around USD 63 per barrel, an increase of 22% since the beginning of the year. This is sustainable for the company, according to the CEO of Qatar Airways.

“I think it is reasonable that the price of oil should be between $ 60 and $ 65 a barrel in order to return to sustainable profitability,” he said.

Air travel recovered?

Qatar Airways, like so many others, was hit hard when air traffic nearly stalled in the first few months of the pandemic.

Last year it received a $ 2 billion bailout from its owner, the gas-rich Qatari state. The flagship of the tiny Gulf monarchy posted a record loss of $ 1.9 billion for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, attributable to both the virus crisis and the blockade of a Saudi-led group of Arab Gulf states that ended in January .

Al Baker said he was confident that his airline would recover; The network is currently being rebuilt to operate more than 1,200 weekly flights to more than 140 destinations by the summer. Nevertheless, the IATA does not forecast a return of air traffic to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

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