Qatar Airways’ most exclusive customers don’t fly in the airline’s “world’s best” business class, they fly in private jets.
Qatar Executive is the private jet division of the Middle Eastern mega carrier, offering a step above the mainline carrier’s glitziest commercial products to those who can afford it. And much like Qatar Airways, one way that Qatar Executive is positioning itself above the rest is by acquiring some of the world’s latest and most expensive private jets.
Case in point, Qatar Executive is the launch customer for the Gulfstream G700 private jet, which is slated to be the most expensive purpose-built private jet at a recently increased list price of $78 million. Expected to enter service in 2022, Gulfstream brought a fully fitted test aircraft to Qatar in the first stop of a world tour showcasing the aircraft to customers.
“I always think we are hungry for more airplanes,” Husam Khalil, Qatar Executive’s executive vice president, told Insider. “The numbers, the [aircraft] movements, the satisfaction and the feedback we receive, the potential, the market; everything tells us that we actually should acquire more.”
The current Qatar Executive fleet is 12 aircraft strong with models including the Gulfstream G650ER, Bombardier Global 6000, and Bombardier Global XRS, as well as an Airbus ACJ319 airliner-turned-private-jet. All aircraft are intended for long-haul flying, positioning Qatar Executive towards true “ultra-high-net-worth individuals.”
The Gulfstream G650ER, for example, has been instrumental in connecting long-distance city pairs including Shanghai-San Francisco, Singapore-London, Tokyo-New York, and Los Angeles-Seoul, the carrier said. Eight additional G650ERs, which boast a top range of 7,500 nautical miles, are slated to join the fleet in upcoming months, followed soon after by the first G700 delivery.
Also like the airline, most of the airline’s passengers aren’t from Qatar. Khalil said that 75% of Qatar Executive customers are based outside of the peninsular nation, and international business has boomed as a result of the pandemic.
After a 70% drop in activity at the peak of the pandemic, Khalil said his aircraft are busier than ever and activity has exceeded pre-pandemic levels by around 60%. The increase in traffic has seemingly justified the recent high-profile orders and the rare investment by a global airline into an in-house private jet division.
Whether or not that activity level is sustainable is the question all private aviation executives are pondering. But Qatar Executive says its core client base will remain.
“We cater to the top of the elite and that specific layer of customer I think will always be there,” Khalil, also an Airbus A350 XWB captain for Qatar Airways, said. “The names and the individuals might change, but the layer will stay.”
Ultimately, the success of Qatar Airways is the success of Qatar Executive since the Qatar Airways Group owns all of its private aircraft. It’s different from a management model where a wealthy owner purchases an aircraft and pays for any maintenance or modifications.
“We take the challenge to the next level: we own and we operate,” Khalil said. It does, however, come with additional investment and expenses as the airline is taking on the costs of acquisitions.
Both carriers also subscribe to the same principle of airplane diplomacy. While the main carrier purchases the latest jets from Airbus and Boeing, Qatar Executive purchases the latest private jets with a penchant for Gulfstream.
That business model affords the wealthy a new type of airline, one that flies some of the most exclusive private aircraft while operating with the same safety standards as a major airline. And just like Qatar Airways passengers, the wealthy only pay for the trips they take instead of the true cost of owning an aircraft.
“Without having the right facilities, expertise, and know-how, forget about owning an aircraft, let alone something as precious as a G650 or G700,” Khalil said. “We simplify it down to just one sentence to the client: where are you going and when?”