Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker this week highlighted the importance of the airline’s ongoing expansion and commitment to one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Speaking in Kolkata to celebrate the recent launch of Qatar Airways’ flights to the former Indian capital, Al Baker expressed his deep sentiments towards India as a solid trading partner with the State of Qatar.

Qatar is India’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) while exports from India to Qatar centre on food, machinery, chemicals, jewellery and textiles.

With strong cultural, social and business links between the two nations, together with the large Indian expatriate community living around the world, the airline boss spoke of how Qatar Airways had developed an established air bridge to connect India with rest of the world with flights to India.

In its relentless expansion, Al Baker said India played a key role in Qatar Airways’ infrastructure, being a key employer of Indian nationals, who represent around 25 per cent of the airline’s 20,000-strong workforce.

Kolkata joined the carrier’s burgeoning family of Indian routes in July with the launch of daily non-stop services from Doha, becoming its 12th passenger gateway in the country. The airline also operates twice-weekly cargo flights to Kolkata.

Since 2004, when Qatar Airways only operated to four cities in India, the airline has gradually increased capacity across the country, tripling the number of destinations to the current 12, taking overall frequency to 95 passenger flights and 15 freighter services each week.

The Indian network covers daily flights to Mumbai, Ahmedabad, flights to Amritsar, Goa, Hyderabad, Kozhikode, Trivandrum, Chennai, Bengaluru (Bangalore), with 11-flights-a-week to Cochin and double daily to the capital, Delhi.

Addressing a press conference in Kolkata, Al Baker said: “Today, Qatar Airways enjoys a robust operation in India with 110 flights a week, a four-fold increase from just a few years ago. Having launched flights to Goa, Amritsar, Bengaluru and flights to Kolkata over the past 24 months, our new routes have facilitated growing demand for more capacity to and from India.

“This is a market that is strong and full of confidence. We are eyeing more opportunities here in India and look forward to developing our footprint further to give the travelling public a wider choice of services they deserve, and the cargo community more flights to ease the flow of goods, produce and other shipments to and from India.”

Added Al Baker: “Our recently-launched flights to Kolkata are a perfect example of being able to take advantage of the huge business opportunities that exist in one of India’s historic key trading port cities.

“And with the huge choice of one-stop connections over our Doha hub to scores of cities across Europe, Middle East, Africa, North America and South America, Qatar Airways is providing a convenient and truly viable alternative to competitors.”

Recently honoured as the World’s Best for service and product excellence in the annual Skytrax industry survey, Qatar Airways flies a young fleet of over 100 aircraft to more than 100 destinations worldwide.

Among the 109 destinations currently served are London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, New York, Washington, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Kuwait, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam – all with excellent connections from Kolkata and other Indian cities.

During 2011, Qatar Airways has so far inducted 14 destinations into its network, with many offering convenient connections for travellers to and from India. These include Bucharest (Romania), Budapest (Hungary), Brussels (Belgium), Stuttgart (Germany), Aleppo (Syria), Shiraz (Iran), Medina (Saudi Arabia), Venice (Italy), Montreal (Canada), Sofia (Bulgaria), Oslo (Norway), Benghazi (Libya) and Entebbe (Uganda).

November 28 marked the launch of the carrier’s last new route of 2011 with Chongqing becoming its fifth gateway in China.

Al Baker said next year will be as exciting as 2011 with 9 destinations set to join the network – namely, Baku (Azerbaijan), Tbilisi (Georgia), Helsinki (Finland), Zagreb (Croatia), Perth (Australia), Mombasa (Kenya), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Kigali (Rwanda), and Gassim (Saudi Arabia).

By 2013, Qatar Airways plans to serve over 120 destinations worldwide with a fleet of more than 120 aircraft.

As part of its aggressive growth plans, Qatar Airways has been busy ordering new aircraft. At last week’s Dubai Air Show, the carrier placed orders for 90 aircraft – both firm and option – comprising 80 Airbus A320 Neo’s, eight A380 super jumbos and two Boeing 777 freighters.

The Doha – Kolkata route is operated by an Airbus A320, featuring 12 seats in Business Class and up to 132 seats in Economy. Latest A320s feature seatback TV screens providing all passengers in both cabins with the next generation interactive onboard entertainment system – a choice of more than 700 audio and video on demand options.

Passengers also have an option of using their mobile phones onboard for SMS, MMS messaging and emails as the aircraft is equipped with the latest onboard telecommunication facilities.