Qatar Airways is carefully watching New Zealand’s border settings but, for the airline that has kept flying here during the pandemic, this country remains firmly on the radar.

Jared Lee, vice-president for sales, said there was strong booking interest in its flights through Doha and its Boxing Day sale included return fares to Europe from New Zealand that were around pre-pandemic levels.

The Qatar government-owned airline expanded while other carriers grounded planes to build market share, although it dropped its daily non-stop flights to Auckland, instead dropping down to three times a week for most of the last 22 months.The flights touch down in Brisbane for a 90-minutetech stop.

“Speaking with many of our stakeholders, travel agents and our passengers, there is definitely demand for travel to and from New Zealand. With future bookings in place already, we anticipate that this demand will continue to rise once certain concerns are addressed,” said Lee.

There remains uncertainty over when MIQ-free travel would return after the Government’s walk-back of relaxing restrictions for Kiwi travellers.Much will depend on how dangerous the Omicron variant becomes to New Zealand’s health system.

Speaking before the Government’s policy reversal on self-isolation, Lee said it was hard to predict schedules initially next year but it would “hopefully” be at least four weekly flights.

Non-stop Auckland-Doha flights – once the longest flight in the world – were a possibility.

“Our global network has expanded to currently operating in over 150 destinations. In regards to New Zealand, we will continue to be committed. Our services for next year, whether it would be point-to-point or flying via Brisbane, will depend on New Zealand border-opening plans.”

Qatar was currently operating the Boeing 777-300ER, however if it decided to return to non-stop flying would probably go back to using the 777-200LR as this was an ideal aircraft for a 17-hour flight.

Middle Eastern rival Emirates has kept up flights throughout the pandemic and, like Singapore Airlines, has maintained a strong presence here. The longer that borders remain restricted by MIQ availability for returning Kiwis and effectively closed to most foreign arrivals, the more risk there is of other smaller airlines not returning.

About 30 airlines flew into Auckland before Covid-19 but this had fallen by about a half.

Lee said the competitive landscape has changed immensely over the last few years.

“When we launched in 2017, the New Zealand market was saturated with many carriers flying in so there was extreme competition.”

However, although the number of airlines had plunged, so had the number of passengers.

“The number of carriers we are competing with is a lot less; the competition amongst the current carriers flying into New Zealand is still aggressive.”

Over Christmas Qatar had return economy fares to Europe starting at $1819 and business at $7039.

Lee said its dynamic pricing strategy is based on many aspects such as destinations, connectivity and transit times.

He said there had been increased demand for its business class – which topped the world Skytrax passenger survey in 2021.Qatar was also named airline of the year.

He said maintaining a presence in New Zealand had helped build on loyalty.

“We know Kiwis are all about loyalty. They were loyal to us pre-pandemic since our launch in the New Zealand market, and we will continue our loyalty to them by being present in the New Zealand market, offering the best product, service and price.”

Lee is an aviation veteran, with close to three decades of airline experience. He joined Qatar Airways in 2006 and was instrumental in the commercial success of Qatar Airways’ operation in the Asia Pacific (China, Japan, Korea, Australasia, Southeast Asia, South Asian Subcontinent), and African markets.

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