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Qatar Airways struggles to rebound in China with post-COVID labor shortages

CEO Akbar Al Baker said that his airline was seeing a huge demand for travel post-pandemic but a “massive shortage” of capacity due to supply chain issues.
Qatari men walk next to a Qatar Airways cargo airplane on the tarmac of Hamad International Airport near the capital Doha, as the first commercial flight to Saudi Arabia in three and a half years following a Gulf diplomatic thaw prepares to take off, on January 11, 2021. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP) (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The chief executive officer of Qatar Airways said on Tuesday it has been “difficult” to ramp up the airline’s business in China again following the COVID-19 pandemic due to labor shortages following the country’s long and strict lockdowns to contain the virus.

China had one of the world's strictest lockdowns as part of its zero-COVID strategy and the country only reopened its borders in January 2023 after three years of restrictions. Most countries ended all of their COVID rules in 2022.

In an interview with Bloomberg at the Qatar Economic Forum, Akbar Al Baker said that his airline was seeing a huge demand for travel post-pandemic but a “massive shortage” of capacity due to a lack of labor and new aircraft deliveries due to supply chain issues.

Asked what routes were most important to Qatar Airways to bounce back, Baker said, “A lot of routes that we had reduced because of capacity restraints and downfall in demand due to COVID. However, now that we are ramping up, we are introducing new routes in Europe, in Africa, in Asia and of course going back big time into China.”

He did not name specific routes because he said if he did, Qatar Airways' competitors would ramp up capacity on them.

“Unfortunately, China is facing problems like everybody else. A shortage of labor, though they have the [world's] largest population, but because of COVID a lot of things changed in the labor market. And now it is difficult to ramp up again because of the long time that China was under lockdown.”

Asked whether there were issues on his airline’s side that were also preventing a quick rebound in China, Baker stressed that there are no problems with recruiting staff domestically.

“What is the problem for us is the delivery of airplanes. We are not getting them due to the shortage of the supply chain,” he added.

On May 1, Al Baker told reporters that Qatar Airways could expand its number of destinations to more than 255 from 170 under a rapid growth plan, but the airline’s ability to do so depends on the delivery of aircraft.

Baker said at the time that he expects Boeing and Airbus to deliver the new aircraft soon for both route expansion and reintroducing routes that were suspended during the pandemic. 

At the beginning of May, Qatar Airways Cargo, a subsidiary of the Qatar Airways Group that owns the main commercial airline, launched its first cargo hub in Africa in collaboration with RwandAir, Rwanda’s flagship carrier, in a bid to tap into the high aerospace growth projected for the continent.

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