(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) British Airways, which is marking 80th anniversary of flights to the Middle East with a beefed up 68 weekly winter flight schedule between the region and London, said on Wednesday that the addition of Qatar Airways to the Oneworld alliance would further strengthen its links with the region.
The deal with Qatar Airways two days ago secures the second-biggest unattached carrier for Oneworld and gives British Airways and allies including American Airlines access to destinations in high-growth markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Sir Martin Broughton, British Airways Chairman, said it was the first time a major airline based in the Gulf joined a global airline alliance. "The addition of Qatar Airways to the Oneworld alliance will allow even more customers to connect with ease on our network," he said at a media briefing.
Aviation analysts believe a concurrent move by Air France to co-ordinate ticket sales with Etihad Airways signified the growing prominence of Gulf based carriers and underscores a significant shift in the way global airlines are likely to operate in future.
"British Airways has pioneered many aviation firsts and are currently two years into a 5 billion investment plan that includes new aircraft, smarter cabins, elegant lounges and new technologies," Broughton told reporters.
The airline's first flight to the region touched down in Sharjah on October 7, 1932, under the banner of Imperial Airways, a predecessor to British Airways.
The Handley Page HP42 aircraft took off from Croydon, just south of London, on 2 October 1932 and took six days to reach Sharjah. The aircraft travelled at just 160kmh and carried fewer than 20 passengers. Eighty years later, a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Dubai on a Boeing 747-400 takes approximately six and a half hours, travels at 988kmh and can carry up to 345 passengers across four classes, he said. Broughton ruled out the possibility of acquiring Portugal's biggest airline TAP due to the situation in Europe, but hinted that the carrier would be looking for new opportunities for growth. He hoped to get King Fisher from Indian to join the alliance. Broughton also ruled out the prospects of buying minority stakes in Indian carriers following the recent liberalisation of foreign direct investment rules in aviation sector.
"In April this year we saw the successful acquisition of bmi from Lufthansa. This deal saw bmi being integrated in the British Airways network and we are near the end of this. In the winter 2012 schedule we will operate 15 per cent more flights at Heathrow as a result our a acquisition," said Broughton.
"From the end of October this means that British Airways will operate more than 90 flights a week from Middle East and Central Asia to London," he said. In May 2013, British Airways will take the first delivery of the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, and in July 2013 it takes delivery of its first A380. "We expect both aircraft to be fully operational for winter 2013 allowing us flexibility on both network and growth."
Laila Ali bin Hareb, Executive Director of Strategy and International Affairs at General Civil Aviation Authority, said British Airways, the first airline to ever fly in UAE airspace back in 1932, has been witnessing the impressive growth of the UAE aviation sector.