Fast-Growing Qatar Airways Eyes Adding Flights to Tokyo

Qatar Airways, the national carrier of the energy-rich Middle Eastern country, aims to start flying to Tokyo, having boosted the frequency of its Doha-Osaka flights from zero to daily over a two-year period to March, according to the head of the airline's operations in Japan.

''I think what is necessary is to have a direct flight from Tokyo,'' Area Manager Japan Jared Lee said in a recent interview with Kyodo News, noting there are many projects going on in Qatar involving big Japanese companies based in Tokyo.

The 39-year-old Malaysian native said Qatar Airways has successfully expanded operations in Japan since it began flights between Doha, the Qatari capital, and Osaka, western Japan, two years ago as itsfirst direct regular flight services to Japan.

Adding Tokyo to the airline's global network would further boost the company's growth, he said.

The airline launched the Doha-Osaka route in April 2005 with fourflights per week. The frequency steadily increased to six in 2006 and became daily on March 25.

No airline flies nonstop between Doha and Tokyo.

Qatar is enjoying some of the fastest economic growth in the world due to its rich energy resources like oil and natural gas.

The country has the world's third-largest natural gas reserves after Russia and Iran. Qatar recorded more than 20 percent increases in gross domestic product in the past three years through 2005.

Trade between Qatar and Japan more than tripled from 1997 to

$11.47 billion in 2005.

As Qatar's national carrier serving Japan, ''I would say that airing to Tokyo is very important,'' Lee said. But competition for the right to fly to Narita airport, located some 60 kilometers east of Tokyo, is tough, he added.

Qatar Airways connects flights to Tokyo as well as other Japanesecities, like Fukuoka and Sapporo, by code sharing with All Nippon Airways Co.

Launched in 1994 as a regional carrier with a handful of routes, Qatar Airways has quickly expanded. It now flies to about 80 global destinations with 60 aircraft.

Lee, who used to work for Singapore Airlines' Gulf Arabs operations before joining Qatar Airways, said the fleet size will be nearly doubled to 110 aircrafts by 2015 through the addition of one new aircraft every month on average over the next few years.

As part of its efforts to attract customer interest for further growth, the Doha-based airline is offering onboard bar and lounge, flat-bed and fine dining services for first-class passengers on the airbus A340-600.

That aircraft does not currently fly to Japan. ''In the future, we may introduce the aircraft to Japan,'' Lee said.

Other measures under what the company calls an ''innovative'' growth strategy include the world's only dedicated passenger terminal for its first and business class passengers at Doha International Airport, he said, adding hotel-style concierge services are available at the $90 million, 10,000 square-meter terminal.

New Doha International Airport is scheduled to open in 2009 about4 kilometers east of the existing airport at a cost of $2.5 billionin the first phase, according to Qatar Airways, which is owned 50 percent each by the government and the private sector.

When fully developed in 2015 at a cost of $5.5 billion, the airport is expected to handle up to 50 million passengers a year, the airline said.

Toward the opening of the new airport, Qatar Airways plans to expand its global network, adding non-stop flights from Doha to nine cities around the world this year.

''The objective of the company now is to position Qatar Airways as a world-class international airline,'' Lee said.

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