Qatar Airways will ground one in four of its aircraft, even as it rebuilds its networkto as many as 80 destinations by the end of June, ahead of a slow multi-year recovery for global air travel.
The travel industry needs "around two to three years to get back to 2019 levels," airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker predicts said on Monday, “unless a miracle" were to happen in the next 12 months.
“I think I would be very surprised if things will happen before 2023/2024," Al Baker reflected.
In keeping with the reduced demand, Qatar Airways will reduce its 200-strong fleet by 25%, with some aircraft to remain grounded while others will be returned to leasing companies.
Al Baker has previously indicated that the airline's ten Airbus A380 superjumbos would be retired from 2024, while all 19 Airbus A330s were to be phased out by 2022 in favour of the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.
He gave no indication if future deliveries of new aircraft – such as the Airbus A320neo, A320neo LR, Boeing 787-9 and Boeing 777X – would be adjusted to help in the resizing of Qatar Airways' fleet.
It's also not known how the Gulf carrier's first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which remain grounded but are believed to feature a second-generation version of the airline's highly-regarded Qsuite business class, will fit into the plan for a smaller Qatar Airways.
While the Oneworld member airline has reduced headcount to help reduce operating costs while much of its fleet remains grounded, Al Baker said he planned to rehire employees made redundant once countries begin to lift travel bans imposed to contain the coronavirus.
Social distancing will be factored in when the airline restarts operations in a way that complies with local and international regulation, and leaving an empty seat between travellers may be part of a long-term solution, he added.
Part of the new-look Qatar Airways will include a partnership with British Airways for flights between the UK, Europe and Australia.
The joint business agreement, approved earlier this month by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, will allow BA and Qatar to co-ordinate on schedules, pricing, sales and marketing, capacity, frequent flyer programs and lounge access.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg