The first Airbus A350 in scheduled service to the United States will land next year, as Qatar Airways expands its U.S. flights using the world’s latest jetliner, the last major design from Airbus and Boeing to enter service for decades to come. Qatar Airways said in a statement on Monday that it will begin service to three new U.S. cities next year, with flights to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Boston.
It's the first expansion in the U.S. by any of the “Big Three” Gulf carriers -- Emirates, Etihad and Qatar -- since the three became embroiled earlier this year in a dispute with U.S. airlines over alleged government subsidies. U.S.-based airlines accuse the Gulf carriers of competing unfairly, thanks to government subsidies.
Flights to Atlanta will also mark the arrival of the Big Three in the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta, where no Middle Eastern airline has ever had scheduled service. Atlanta is also the main hub for Delta Airlines, which along with American Airlines and United Airlines is calling for curbs on the expansion of the Big Three into U.S. airports.
Qatar Airways said it will begin flying daily to Los Angeles on January 1, using Boeing 777 aircraft. Daily flgihts to Boston with the A350 begin on March 16, and Atlanta begins on July 1 with a daily 777 service. The airline says it will then offer daily nonstop services to all 10 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. It can do so by taking advantage of so-called Open Skies agreements that allow two countries to operate as many flights between them as their airlines wish, wth no need for government approval.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker recently said that “Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] are violating the aviation trade agreements between the U.S. and those countries by providing enormous subsidies to Qatar Airways, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways.”
Parker alleged that the subsidies to Emirates, Qatar and Etihad, which have increased their combined passenger capacity by 1,500 percent since 2000, totaled more than $42 billion in the past decade alone. American, Delta and United published a white paper detailing these allegations, which the Mideast Three refute, saying that they are winning over passengers with better service and an attractive network of destinations. Qatar Airways’ statement highlighted precisely that, singling out the possibility of easy connections via its hub in Doha from the U.S. to top global cities such as Singapore and Bangkok, or tourist havens like the Maldives.
The three Gulf carriers have also been expanding their fleets at a much faster pace than airlines in the U.S. or Europe, buying hundreds of the newest Boeing and Airbus jets and often becoming the biggest operator of each model. The A350, a long-range twinjet built largely of composite materials like its rival Boeing 787, is part of the strategy, with Qatar Airways buying 80. That’s as many A350s as the biggest three U.S. airlines are buying combined (United is taking 35, Delta 25 and American 22.)
The first scheduled A350 in the United States will in fact land on March 1 at New York’s JFK airport, as Qatar adds a second daily nonstop flight. The A350 had its first commercial flight earlier this year, and Qatar is currently the type’s sole operator.