Qatar Airways will post a loss in its financial year 2019, but will continue to grow its network nonetheless, CEO Akbar Al Baker said at the ITB tourism fair in Berlin.

“We will announce another loss for this year,” Al Baker said referring to the fiscal year 2019 ending March 31. He cited the higher operational cost caused by the blocked airspace around Qatar, higher fuel costs, and the stronger US dollar to the Qatari Riyal as key reasons for the deteriorated performance.

The airline had already posted a $68 million loss for fiscal 2018, according to its annual report.

Despite the challenges, the Doha-based carrier plans to add 14 destinations in 2019 and is introducing new services to Izmir/Turkey, Rabat/Morocco, Malta, Davao/Philippines, Lisbon/Portugal, Mogadishu/Somalia and Langkawi/Malaysia.

Qatar Airways is also increasing frequencies on several routes including London-Gatwick, Johannesburg and Cape Town, Vienna, Copenhagen and Edinburgh. It will deploy the Airbus A380 on the Frankfurt route.

Qatar and the European Commission earlier this week initialed a new bilateral air services agreement that has yet to be signed and ratified. The additional frequencies are not related to the new deal. Until 2024, frequency limitations on services to France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium will be given up in favor of full market access. In return, the Commission and Qatar have negotiated minimum labor standards and fair competition rules as well as a dispute settlement mechanism.

“We will [benefit from] a gradual increase of frequencies for full Open Skies between 2020 and 2024,” Al Baker said. “But we have immediate access to [more] secondary cities.” He anticipates the agreement will “come into force in the very near future.”

Al Baker sharply criticized ICAO for not supporting Qatar’s cause enough to end what the country considers to be the “illegal blockade” of airspace by its neighbors. “The leaders of ICAO did not act. They opened up a precedent and they should know they have a responsibility,” he said. “They should know that we will have our claims.”

On some routes, operating costs have risen by 20%. Flights to Latin America are in the air close to 2 hrs. more because Qatar-registered aircraft have to fly around parts of the airspace on more direct routings.

Al Baker also hinted again that the airline may leave the oneworld alliance. “Within a month or two, we will know whether we will stay or leave. I think it is the latter that is going to happen,” he said. Qatar Airways is not a Mickey Mouse airline. We are not going to be bullied by some individual who thinks the world belongs to him.” He referred to American Airlines chairman and CEO Doug Parker.

The airline also presented a new economy class seat that will first be installed on new Airbus A321neos but will be rolled out fleetwide in due course. A new premium class narrowbody product is to be launched in 2020.

Jens Flottau, jens.flottau@aviationweek.com